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10 to 16-yr olds hold ROV comp. at Mass. Maratime Acad

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10 to 16-yr olds hold ROV comp. at Mass. Maratime Acad

Postby U-5075 » Sat Jun 27, 2009 7:39 pm

10 to 16-year-olds hold ROV competitions at Massachusetts Maritime Academy ... 69961/1130

St. Joseph County robotics team faces contest judges
Tribune Staff Writer

BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — Tashawn Reese is a calm drillmaster. At 14, he's bigger than the other boys and can rattle on with ease about RPG's (role-playing games) and hand-held video games.

On Thursday morning, he grabs the slip of paper bearing the script that Matthew O'Neal must memorize.

"Read it over and over and over until we get there," Tashawn tells Matthew, less than an hour before their team will be grilled by two judges. "And you, too, Allen."

Each of the 12 teammates on Aquatic Swag will explain what they did with connectors, thrusters, a video camera, a control box — all parts of the underwater robot they built.

It's show time. This team of kids, ages 10 to 16 from the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County, has briefly found their serious faces, a break from the games

and jokes that absorb their days. They are younger and noticeably shorter than any of the 53 other teams here in the Marine Advanced Technology Education's international competition, held this year at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

They file into a classroom for the oral part, to tell two judges what they know about their remotely operated vehicle, or ROV. They glance at their papers more than they did in practice. Judge Mark Crenshaw smiles and nods as much as humanly possible to ease their nerves. But he has to dig, to see if the kids truly understand what they did. Like: Why did you drill holes in the PVC pipe of your ROV?

"My degree is in biomedical engineering, so you can do both," he tells the group. He helps to build fighter jets, and he says pilots pull a lot of G forces in the sky, adding, "I got hired to help fighters endure that."

He tells them he's judged 38 robot competitions like this one – and hired young engineers who've come out of them.

When he asks if the kids ever wanted to give up on their project, Raven McCool quickly responds: "Yes, I got bored and frustrated. … It was really complicated. At the beginning, nobody wanted to come. Then I forced my brother (Joe) to come. Then I got help from other people on the team to build it."

Only six members of the team can come to pilot their ROV, dubbed Lil Swag, at the poolside. The rest, plus parents and coaches, watch from the stands as Lil Swag swishes through the chlorinated water to its target: a mock submarine made of red milk crates, a sub that has run aground.

Pilots Joe McCool and Allen Miller must keep their backs to the water. As they would with a real-life ROV, they must only see only through the eyes of Lil Swag, a camera that feeds video to the boys on a small screen. They call back "more tether" to the girls behind them, who feed the line out to Lil Swag as he swims in the pool.

The robot must reach five "damage points" on the sub, but it fails to reach one side. Before time is up, they don't even get to the second half of their tasks, which includes opening a hatch on the sub. They score low: 30 out of 200 points.

"Hard shot, kiddo, but you had a lot of heart – you did a good job," judge Buzz Scott tells the crew, having had his eyes and ears glued to the pilots' work. He's seen teams lose their nerves. Not these guys.

The pool team sticks around to practice again in the water, and they discover their problem. One of the pool's water jets was shoving Lil Swag off course. They tell the judges and put their hopes in their second and last attempt, at 9:30 a.m. today.

Now through Saturday: Follow the team's progress here in The Tribune.
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