How many people does it take to control an underwater robot? Generally not 150, but that’s how many sixth and seventh graders were eager to remotely guide MIT Sea Grant’s underwater robots.In a recent visit to Boston’s Josiah Quincy School, a team of MIT Sea Grant researchers got students involved in a hands-on robotic demonstration with two different small remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Brandy Wilbur, MITSG education coordinator and aquaculture specialist, initiated the students to the finer points of remote control in the school’s swimming pool with Sea Perch, a small ROV that is routinely constructed and operated by high school students.After their introduction to the Sea Perch, the students participated in a search mission with a larger ROV, with the goal of finding “a hidden treasure” in the pool. The students took turns controlling the vehicle while images captured by the vehicle’s onboard camera were displayed on a nearby wall. MITSG research engineers Jim Morash and Vic Polidoro assisted with the navigation, explaining how sensors and remote operation work. MITSG principal research scientist Milica Stojanovic, who led the group, described the students’ enthusiastic underwater maneuvering as akin to carnival bumper cars. The mission was completed once the robot reached a finish sign hidden beneath the water’s surface.Stojanovic, who specializes in underwater acoustics, led a discussion with students about the importance of scientific research and the engineering challenges she sees in the field of underwater autonomous systems. “It was a wonderful day working with the children, and the feedback we got from them clearly shows that they not only enjoyed the hands-on demonstration, but also learned a lot,” she says. Stojanovic also points out the importance of teachers in engaging students in marine science. “Mary Whelan, the school’s P.E. teacher, not only helped with the show, but bravely dove into the pool to serve as a bait for the robot,” she recounts. “And JSQ science teacher Judy Robinson has done a wonderful job bringing robotics and oceanography into the classroom.”Stojanovic adds that Robinson will get to continue the hands-on underwater robotics work with students, thanks to the Sea Perch assembly kit provided by MIT Sea Grant.
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