One of the most exciting areas of innovation and growth in underwater vehicles is the development of underwater vehicles for the secondary education market – that is, middle school and high school students. These autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) aren’t as sophisticated as modern commercial craft, but they teach young people the basics of designing, building, and operating underwater vehicles in an affordable way. Underwater vehicles aimed at the high school education system (or the individual hobbyist) can be purchased in kit form for very modest amounts of money.
The SeaGlide is a glider, a unique form of untethered AUV. Gliders are autonomous winged robot vehicles which don’t have a conventional propulsion system – no propeller, in other words. Instead, they move by altering their buoyancy – taking in or pumping out water – and altering their center of gravity. Each change in buoyancy causes the craft to rise and sink. With each cycle of rising and falling, the glider’s wings cause a pressure differential which generates forward velocity – the craft literally glides through the water. This is an extremely energy-efficient, albeit slow, form of propulsion – in 2009 an autonomous glider called Scarlet Knight made a 221-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
The SeaGlide doesn’t have that kind of endurance, but it still can teach young science and engineering students a great deal about AUVs. SeaGlide kits come with everything needed to build an autonomous underwater glider, complete with temperature and pressure sensors. There is also a complete curriculum, covering electronics, soldering, programming using the Arduino Pro Mini computers that control the SeaGlide, building the servo-driven motor that powers the SeaGlide, and more. Since each SeaGlide kit costs less than $250, it is an accessible learning tool for students everywhere.
(You can learn more about SeaGlide at www.seaglide.net.)
Students interested in a more conventional ROV might want to look at the SeaPerch program. SeaPerch is a curriculum and kit combination that allows students to build an ROV from low-cost, readily-available parts. The SeaPerch curriculum is very thorough, covering ship and submarine design, buoyancy, propulsion, soldering, tool usage, electronics, waterproofing, the physics of underwater motion, career possibilities in underwater industries, and much more. Students learn practical engineering techniques and principles in the process of building their own ROV – and they get to design the ROV themselves, since the SeaPerch is a concept and a kit, not a specific formal design.
SeaPerch is more than just an ROV kit, however. The program offers training to teachers (“teaching the teachers”) including continuing education credits for free one and 1.5 day training events, as well as providing free online training. There is also a nationwide network of competitive districts for SeaPerch Challenges, allowing students to compete with their vehicles in head-to-head matchups with other schools, testing vehicle performance, design innovation and quality, build technique, and more. SeaPerch kits cost less than $200 apiece, with an optional $250 tool kit for schools which may not have things like soldering irons and power drills.
(You can learn more about SeaPerch at www.seaperch.org.)
As cool as they are, SeaPerch and SeaGlide are just the tip of the underwater vehicle iceberg. Students interested in learning more about a career in underwater technology should check out MATE, the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center, a national organization dedicated to advancing marine technical education and preparing the future marine technology workforce. MATE sponsors and runs national-level ROV competitions, and they also offer on-board internship programs on research vessels operated by the US Coast Guard, the Ocean Exploration Trust, and University National Oceanographic Laboratory System.
MATE has comprehensive information on college-level marine technology programs, scholarships, and internships, and they offer faculty development workshops for teachers and professors of marine science. MATE also publishes “Underwater Robotics: Science, Design & Fabrication”, the gold standard textbook in the building of ROVs and AUVs, and provides free guides and tutorials on constructing a number of more advanced ROVs.
(You can learn more about MATE’s extensive program offerings at www.marinetech.org.)