Room 114 has become an underwater robot factory.
The creators have been cutting, drilling, soldering and waxing remotely operated vehicles for weeks, preparing them to maneuver through underwater obstacle courses with speed and agility.
PVC pipes, mesh, floats, batteries and small motors are the tools of the robot trade for 16 Nicholas Orem Middle School students who will show off their creations at a regional competition April 14.
Four teams of seventh- and eighth-grade students at the Hyattsville school have dedicated one afternoon each week to assembling these robots for a regional SeaPerch competition at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where the students’ robots will challenge as many as 90 other teams’ creations in completing various tasks.
“You get the chance to work with things you don’t get to work with in school, like you don’t get to work with motors,” said Jonathan Molina, a seventh-grader, as his team coated batteries with wax before slipping them into film canisters that will protect the batteries underwater.
Winners of many of the almost 20 regional contests can advance to the national competition, which is being staged in Manassas from April 11 to 13. The national event started almost five years ago and is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.
Because of a scheduling mix-up, the second annual regional competition in Annapolis will be held after the national competition, said Angela Moran, who oversees the regional event in her role as the Odgers professor for science, technology, engineering and math at the Naval Academy.
The region will, however, select about eight teams to send to the national competition based on their past performance in SeaPerch activities, said Moran, who is expecting about 90 teams to compete in the Annapolis event.
SeaPerch offers kits to build the vehicles and curriculum materials to schools and groups in 20 regions across the country, said Phil Kimball, the national SeaPerch program director.
“It gives them an opportunity to build something,” Kimball said. “They learn all kinds of new skills with the hope that some of these kids who might not have thought of science and technology and engineering and mathematics as a career, it might just awaken them to this possibility.”
Charlotte Rajasingh, an eighth-grade science teacher who is organizing Nicholas Orem’s inaugural SeaPerch teams, said building an ROV gives students a sense of what professional scientists or engineers do, in addition to honing their skills with measurement, fractions and following instructions.
“It’s an awesome way of bringing science out of the test [students] have to take and into ‘this could be a career,’” Rajasingh said, referring to the Maryland School Assessments.
D’Andre Marmolejos, a seventh-grade student, said he might use the skills he has learned through SeaPerch — following a building plan, drilling, cutting — in a future career as an architect.
Reyna Hernandez, an eighth-grader, said she has learned how to connect batteries to operate a motor as well as how to communicate with a team.
The school received four SeaPerch kits from the school system’s central science department office, Rajasingh said.
Many schools request kits provided free by the Office of Naval Research, Kimball said. The kits retail at about $125.
All of the students said they are looking forward to the competition, when they will quickly maneuver their ROVs through an obstacle course in a pool at the Naval Academy, but before then, they’ll practice in a kiddie pool at Nicholas Orem, Rajasingh said.
Micah Clark, a seventh-grade student, and his team said they think their ROV can win next month.
“I like building stuff to see the results,” said Micah, 12. “It’s pieces, then it’s all one big creation.”