International contest for New Bedford robotics students

By Charis Anderson
Source: The Standard Times
NEW BEDFORD – At a time of year when many teens are counting the days until summer break, the students in the robotics class at New Bedford High School are gearing up for their biggest test of the year: an international competition in Florida next month.
A five-student team – Thai Le, Jose Vargas, Michael Rapoza, Mason St. Jacques and Alexis Almeida – secured a berth to Florida by winning the New England Regionals of the Marine Advanced Technology Education remotely operated vehicle competition, held at the end of last month at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
This will be the third time in three years that New Bedford High has sent a team to the international competition, which features teams from as far away as Russia and Hong Kong.
At the New England Regionals, one of the judges said “we’re slowly becoming the New York Yankees of the ROV competition,” said Chris Parker, the robotics teacher at the high school.
The success the high school’s teams have had over the past few years has increased interest in the technology and engineering fields, said Anne Oliveira, the district’s director of science, technology and engineering.
“It was, ’This is so cool because look what we’re learning and how you can apply it,’” she said.
The competition works this way: teams receive a packet of information explaining exactly what their ROV will have to do as well as the design specifications it must abide by.
This year’s contest looks at the role ROVs played in exploring World War II shipwrecks, and among the tasks the team members have to complete is using their ROV to measure the length of a shipwreck and to create a map of the wreck site.
In total, there are 13 tasks that the team must complete in 15 minutes or less.
The team also has to write a technical report, create a poster display and present its project to professional engineers.
It was that last component the team was the most nervous about heading into the regional competition, Parker said.
She told the students: You know this project inside and out. Just explain it to the judges like you would explain it to me.
The students rehearsed for two hours, and when the time came to present, they nailed it, receiving 82 out of a possible 83 points, said Parker.
“When you prepare for something, and you find out you did really, really well because you prepared, it’s a good feeling,” said Thai, who is the “CEO” of the New Bedford team.
The team is already back at work on its ROV, reviewing the score cards from Regionals to identify areas in which they can improve.
The win at the regional competition was just the latest high point in a year of successes. In December, Thai and Jose won first place in Massachusetts in another underwater ROV competition; they moved on to the national competition, in which they placed ninth.
Thai and Jose also competed in a land-based ROV competition, known as First Tech Challenge: they were undefeated at a January competition and then moved on to the statewide competition, where they finished second.
May 13, 2012
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