Whidbey underwater robotics team advances

FREELAND — They started about five years ago as public school students with an interest in science.

Now, south Whidbey Island’s Atlantis Inc. ROV Team is preparing to test its underwater robotics skills against students from around the world. The group of five middle- and high-schoolers won a spot in the international contest by placing first in a May 11 regional competition.

“They really enjoy making things,” said mentor Ashley McConnaughey, whose two daughters are on the squad. “They started about five years ago just being a science club.”

The next step is a competition scheduled Thursday through Saturday at King County’s Aquatics Center in Federal Way. There, the south Whidbey students are set to face teams from Canada, Egypt, Hong Kong, Japan, Scotland and elsewhere.

The local team members are: Derrick Riley, 18; Austin Drake, 17; Hannah McConnaughey, 16; Chris Wilson, 16; and Haley McConnaughey, 13.

Their homemade robot, dubbed ROVBOTNICA 2, cost $544 compared to the $4,000 to $17,000 some other teams shelled out. They spent months to engineer and build it, puzzling over trigonometry problems to determine features such as the best pitch for their aquatic vehicle’s propellers. “Our bot didn’t look like anything else there,” Riley said.

The competitions are overseen by the MATE Center — the acronym stands for Marine Advance Technology Education. The goal is to promote the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

Competitions focus on real-life scenarios. Past examples have included the 2010 BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico and searching WWII ship wrecks. Competitors are from community colleges and universities as well as K-12 schools.

The Atlantis Inc. ROV Team also has been selected to collaborate on two free June 9 workshops on Whidbey Island as part of the Seattle Science Festival, which produced by the Pacific Science Center with help from some of the state’s top tech companies.

The first program is the Intro to Underwater Robotics, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s limited to the first 24 applicants who register at www.seatlesciencefestival.org.

The second event is the Underwater Robotics Showcase and Demonstration from 2 to 4:30 p.m.

The venue for both programs is the is the Island Athletic Club, 5522 Freeland Ave., Freeland.

The MATE International ROV competition is June 20-22, at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, 650 SW Campus Drive, Federal Way. Go to www.marinetech.org/ rov-competition for information.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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