It may not be bailing wire and duct tape, but give these Stansbury High School students a challenge to find a frugal solution to a complex problem and they will find a way, even if it involves PVC pipe, pool noodles and rocks.
SeaStorm, a group of SHS students in an after school academic program, is the first high school team in Utah to be invited to participate in an international underwater remotely operated vehicle competition.
The nine students built from scratch an underwater ROV that is capable of picking up a heavy submerged object, removing and replacing a trash screen, and releasing baby trout.
Those were the requirements for the 2019 MATE — Marine Advanced Technology Education — ROV International Competition.
Gavin Norman, one of the students on the team, said he and his fellow team members had no previous experience with building ROVs, but they worked together and came up with a plan to make their ROV, with a tight budget.
The SHS underwater ROV consisted of a cube-shaped frame built out of PVC pipe, with the lower pipes filled with gravel to allow buoyancy while keeping the ROV upright when submerged.
A piece of foam from a pool noodle was attached to one of the upper PVC pipes as a stabilizer.
The underwater craft was powered by bilge pumps with propellers attached to the rotating part of the pumps.
The team members constructed the propellers using a 3-D printer at the high school.
Powered by a 12-volt car battery, the ROV is controlled by several analog switches mounted on the outside of a plastic box with a tethered cord that connects to the ROV.
In addition to the 12-volt power for the motors, the team had to figure out how to supply a 5-volt power source for an onboard webcam and a 3-volt power supply for lasers on the ROV used for measuring distances underwater.
“I learned a lot about wiring and electronics,” said Norman, who will be a junior at SHS this fall.
After spending two hours after school for almost four months, the SeaStorm team members faced their moment of truth at the end of April.
They found a backyard pool at a Stansbury Park home where they could test their creation.
“We were surprised,” Norman said. “It worked well. The only problem was we didn’t waterproof the cable for the webcam so it got wet and didn’t work.”
The team made a video of the ROV attempting the required tasks and sent it to the MATE ROV Center as its entry into the competition to qualify for the international competition.
Toward the end of May the SHS team was informed by the MATE ROV Center that it was one of 45 teams selected out of 741 entrants to participate in the 2019 International MATE ROV Competition. The competition will be held June 20-22 at the Kingsport Aquatics Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.
The SHS team is the first in the state of Utah to qualify for the MATE ROV International Championship, according to Timmie Sinclair, MATE ROV Competition International Competition registrar and liaison.
Along with teams from the United States, the International MATE ROV Competition includes teams from Canada, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, the Russian Federation, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
The cost of the project so far has been $360, but now the team needs to raise $4,000 to pay for the trip to Tennessee for three students and their advisor. With little time to organize fundraisers, a friend of the team has opened a GoFundMe account for the team at www.gofundme.com/materov-international-competition.
Norman said the team not only learned about electronics and ROVs, but also about problem solving and teamwork.
“We divided up into smaller teams to work on different parts of the ROV,” he said. “For the big parts we would all kind of get together and talk about what might work until we had a solution we all agreed on.”
The team is already thinking about improvements for next year, Norman said.