Indiana State University hosts inaugural SeaPerch state finals

April 25, 2011

Technology students from Indiana State University helped organize the first state competition for a growing underwater robotics program.

ISU technology and engineering students played hosts and volunteered their services. Cody Eaves, a sophomore technology and engineering education major, relished the opportunity to give back to high school students through the SeaPerch event.

"It's a great opportunity for the students here to have hands-on experience working with high school students," Eaves said. "For ISU to be able to hold a competition like this at our school is a great opportunity for us to showcase the advancements we've made in technology and something we're really excited about."

Some of the top high school robotics students from the state of Indiana displayed their acumen using remotely operated underwater vehicles. Students from 10 Indiana high schools qualified to compete with submersible SeaPerch vehicles in three different events. ISU's Arena served as the host venue on campus, with students utilizing the building's pool for an underwater test of skill and design expertise.

"Having the kids here at ISU is a great opportunity for our university to showcase itself," said Kara Harris, director of undergraduate services in ISU's College of Technology and professor, who served as the main event organizer from ISU. "SeaPerch is a great program to engage young individuals in technology and engineering, and it's an honor to have them here at ISU."

The competition tested the skills of the students controlling the robot, and ultimately the robot's design. While most robots had similar appearances, each team had its own unique touches as they looked to gain an advantage. Teams competed in three events: an obstacle course, a ring salvage operation and an amphibious assault.

While some teams managed to navigate the obstacle course of underwater barriers and collect rings with ease, other robots struggled through malfunctions that hindered their abilities to maneuver.

Indiana established the SeaPerch program last year, with 11 schools competing in the first regional competition in 2010. This year's program expanded to two regionals in Indiana, with Indiana State University being chosen as the selection site to host the inaugural state finals.

"ISU is really growing its unmanned vehicle systems, and it's a very reputable school in technology and innovation," said Lori Richmond, director of learning for SeaPerch. "It's in a good location for the students to access and working with the professors here to organize the competition made the process much more efficient."

The goal of the program is to teach the value of technology to students who may go on to pursue post-secondary education in the field of technology or engineering. SeaPerch was created in 2003 to generate interest in underwater studies. The robotics kit provides students the opportunity to create a remotely operated underwater vehicle using PVC piping and other materials. The submerged vehicle is operated by a person from the surface using a panel of controls.

Richmond says that the organization is trying to engage students in the value of science, technology and engineering.

"The program started on a national level through the Office of Naval Research, but it is starting to spread across the country," Richmond said. "Our goal is to provide kids with an opportunity with high-engagement science and a practical application of being able to work and build their own vehicle and seeing what they can develop."

"Our engineering teacher introduced us to the idea and [our team] all thought it would be a good idea to partake in," said Forrest Park High School team member Alex Luebbenhusen, who participated in the event.

First place winners from each category will now have the opportunity to move on to Philadelphia to compete in the SeaPerch national competition. For a full-list of award winners, see below.

Obstacle course
1st - Southern Indiana Career and Tech (Option for Nationals)
2nd - Evansville North High School
3rd - Springs Valley

Salvage
1st - Evansville North HS (Option for Nationals)
2nd - Southern Indiana Career and Tech
3rd - Bloomfield

Amphibious Assault
1st - Owen Valley (Option for Nationals)
2nd - Bloomington High School South, 1 second difference (Option for Nationals)
3rd - Forest Park

Presentations
1st - Forest Park (Option for Nationals)
2nd - Southern Indiana Career and Tech
3rd - Owen Valley

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/SeaPerch-Competition/i-VbdBQvR/0/L/04_15_11_seaperch-3998-L.jpg (ISU/Tony Campbell)
An underwater remotely operated vehicle during the SeaPerch state championship at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

Writer: Scott Campbell, media relations assistant, Indiana State University, at 812-237-3773 or rcampbell10@indstate.edu.