Six local students – two from Bassett High School and four from Carlisle School – traveled to Kingsport, Tennessee to compete in an underwater robotics competition called the Marine Advanced Technological Education Remotely Operated Vehicle [MATE ROV] competition.

To prepare for the competition, the team (called Dasyatis) spent nearly 80 hours over two months designing their robot and training for the underwater challenges. Dasyatis went head-to-head against five teams from across the region and won the MATE ROV Engineering Award and placed third overall in the product demonstration challenges.

“To take home an award –and to place– in our first-ever competition, we’re pretty excited,” says Dasyatis coach and PHCC engineering instructor David Dillard. “We were up against teams that had been competing for years and had much better equipment, but we gave them a really good fight.”

The aim of the MATE underwater robotics competition is to teach science, technology, engineering, and math along with teamwork and problem-solving skills. All of which are required skills for high-demand fields like engineering and advanced manufacturing. The competition gives students a taste for applied engineering work and exposure to real-world engineering problems.

For this year’s competition, the challenges were molded after a dam repair job, a marine environment scan, and a submerged historical artifact recovery project. The objectives the students had to complete emulated challenges that the engineers and biologist would have encountered on the real-life jobs. After constructing their own ROV robot, the students navigated it remotely through underwater courses to complete the objectives. One objective was to locate and repair cracks in a dam-like wall. For another exercise, the students used the robot to calculate the amount of force needed to lift a civil war-era cannon, the volume of the cannon, and the composition of the cannon.

According to Dasyatis’ Coach and PHCC’s General Engineering Technology Instructor, David Dillard, the team had to get creative and jury-rig cup holders as propeller shrouds and a car’s back-up camera as the robot’s video feed so the students could control the robot’s movement.

For these creative solutions to work, the students had to learn and apply engineering technology skills like soldering and programming. The team’s three coaches – David Dillard, a general engineering technologies instructor at PHCC, Keith Newcomb, a Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) technologies instructor at PHCC, and Christy Richardson a physics teacher from Carlisle School – guided the students.

“The kids did the work and we as mentors guided them with ideas and the learning process through things they had never seen,” says Newcomb. “During the competition, we couldn’t even be on the floor with them. They had to do it all. And, the coolest part was that this was a team of kids from different schools all coming together. It was awesome. No other team had that kind of multi-school collaboration.”

One of the team’s sponsors, the Eastman Foundation, says the team’s collaboration is inspiring and this competition is valuable.

“We are so impressed to see students from two different high schools coming together under coaches from two different institutions. Their collaborative spirit is inspirational,” says Eastman’s Community Relations Manager Tanya Foreman. “Eastman is pleased to support this team, and we’re excited to see local students working to improve the technical skills that are so valuable in our industry. As Eastman continues to operate the two facilities we have in this area, we look to local students to become the future workforce. This competition is a great way for students to improve technical skills and become workforce-ready.”