SeaPerch: A Dive into Underwater Robotics

Brian Gautreau, Elnaggar, Allison

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Rapides Parish 4-H’ers work check the buoyancy of their SeaPerch ROV at the Rapides Parish SeaPerch Challenge.

Louisiana 4-H is making waves, quite literally, through its SeaPerch Challenge. SeaPerch introduces youth to the world of underwater robotics, exposing them to the principles of robotics, physics, engineering and oceanography. The program centers around the construction and operation of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) capable of performing a variety of tasks in underwater environments. Louisiana 4-H was provided the opportunity to request free kits for teams that want to build and compete with the ROVs through a partnership with the Louisiana STEM Advisory Council.

Youth participating in SeaPerch form teams to build and practice piloting their ROVs. They develop STEM competencies along the way through step-by-step assembly of the frame, mechanical and electrical components of the ROV. The program also fosters teamwork and communication skills as youth problem-solve buoyancy, circuitry and propulsion issues through the build and as they customize their ROVs.

“SeaPerch is unique in robotics programs in that it does not require coding or computers. Kids build, test and develop a love of engineering, and that often leads to participation in other robotics programs or competitions,” said Kim Kaufman, instructor and recruiter with LSU College of Engineering.

Rapides Parish 4-H agents Allison Elnaggar and Heather Bordelon hosted a parish contest in the fall of 2022. More than 20 youth on five different teams participated in the event. Teams used their ROVs to compete in an obstacle course and time trial course in the pool. They also participated in an interview with a panel of judges and submitted an engineering-design notebook that recorded their build process. Dakota Guillory, Zachary Lucas and John Skrobarcek were a team from Grace Christian School that competed at the Rapides contest.

“It was fun to see other teams’ robots and to see their designs,” Guillory, Lucas and Skrobarcek said in a joint statement after the competition. “We made mistakes but we learned from them. Next time we will have a better idea of how to design the robot. It was a learning experience.”

The program helps develop both STEM skills and soft skills such as teamwork and communication.

“The teamwork aspect of SeaPerch was the most difficult, but they learned the most establishing better communication and teamwork skills,” Rapides High School teacher Kimberly Broussard noted.

A statewide competition was held on LSU’s campus in the spring of 2023 with 30 youth from six parishes competing on nine different teams. This event added a mission course to the competition, where youth used their ROVs to carry out a set of tasks in a simulated underwater research station.

The program also serves as a gateway to STEM education.

“The program helped to emphasize science principles such as buoyancy, acceleration, speed and engineering,” Rapides High School teacher Paul Troncale said.

The program, which is open to middle and high school students, is set to grow. Louisiana 4-H will host a Regional Qualifier in 2024, with qualifying winners heading to the International Competition that will be held in Maine.

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The Sensational Sea Sisters team celebrates after completing pool courses.

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Team members discuss strategy.

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A SeaPerch ROV works to complete elements of the mission pool course.

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Members of the Bolton High SeaPerch team participate in an interview at the Rapides Parish SeaPerch Challenge.

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A SeaPerch ROV moves through the pool at the Rapides Parish SeaPerch Challenge.

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A team member from Bolton High places a SeaPerch ROV in the pool for the Rapides Parish SeaPerch Challenge.

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The high school overall champions show off their awards at the Louisiana 4-H SeaPerch Challenge.

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The middle school overall champions pose for a photo at the Louisiana 4-H SeaPerch Challenge.

3/5/2024 9:59:05 PM
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