Nancy Fortin sat in the bleachers at the West Mesa Aquatic Center on a recent Saturday watching her daughter – one of about 140 students from seven different area schools – compete in an underwater robotics competition.
Haley Fortin and her partner Sequoia Padilla, students from La Cueva High School, were among participants from five high schools, one middle school and two elementary schools who took part in the SeaPerch underwater robotics competition being held by Albuquerque Public Schools.
During the competition, students used remote control robots they built themselves to maneuver obstacle courses and complete other challenging tasks in the pool.
“It teaches us a lot of things we didn’t think we could do otherwise,” Haley Fortin said of the competition.
Students build the robots, or Remotely Controlled Vehicles, from a kit made up of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts.
Haley Fortin and Padilla said they spent about 8 to 12 hours building their SeaPerch robot.
“We built this robot from scratch. We had to solder all the parts. So just that sense of building something from the ground up is just a great learning experience for us,” she said.
Her mother agreed, saying the competition is more than just a fun activity for her daughter and other students, but also a great way for them to learn about math and science, and possibly introduce them to a promising career.
Mark Hendricks, a naval science teacher at West Mesa who oversaw the competition, said SeaPerch competitions originated out of a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It has since grown to a national level, he said.
This was the second year APS has held a SeaPerch competition, Hendricks said.
Last year, there were 26 students teams – consisting of three to five students – that participated in the competition.
This year, there were 41 teams, Hendricks said, adding the competition was open to anyone.
The hope is the program will continue to be an annual event, he said.
What Hendricks said he likes about the program is that it teaches students basic math, science and
engineering concepts, and potentially introduces them to engineering fields that use robotics.
Hendricks said three teams from Albuquerque will be traveling to Dartmouth College to compete in a national SeaPerch competition.
SeaPerch, according to its website, began as a two-page project in a book entitled “How to Build an Underwater Robot” by Harry Bohm and Vickie Jensen. It had a parts list and instructions on how to assemble one. Years later, Professor Thomas Consi at MIT developed a curriculum around SeaPerch to grow the Ocean Engineering Program at MIT.
For the past four years, SeaPerch has been managed by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation and continues to expand nationally. More than 50,000 students have participated in the program since it went national five years ago. The program also is supported by the Office of Naval Research.