In April Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC) hosted 37 teams from 18 schools for the 3rd annual Greater Jacksonville SeaPerch Challenge at the Cecil Aquatic Center. Students from Florida, Georgia and the Caribbean followed a set curriculum to create an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the SeaPerch kit, then spent countless hours practicing and problem solving to increase their skills for a chance to compete in the 2018 International Competition.

By designing and maneuvering a winning ROV through several underwater challenges, three teams advanced from Jacksonville to the International Competition in Dartmouth, Mass.: The Hetwiler Halibuts from Fleming Island High School, the MegaSharks from Mayport Coastal Sciences Middle School and Team DART from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

Jordan Detwiler and Austin Hughes of the Halibuts were crowned 2018 International Champions in the high school bracket, led in part by maneuvering their ROV through the “Challenge” course almost 40 seconds better than teams from as far away as Australia. Last year the Halibuts finished in second place overall at the International Competition held at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta.

“We’ve streamlined a lot of the way we’ve built the robot … but we are not at liberty to share those ideas,” said Jim Hughes, adult leader of the Halibuts. “Every team goes through a bunch of the motors and designs to capture the fastest and most maneuverable ROV.”

The Mayport Coastal Sciences Middle School “MegaSharks” finished 3rd overall in the middle school competition. This was the MegaSharks second time to compete in the finals, led by Mayport science teacher Bill Hudson and advisers Wade Fallan and Chris Shanklin. “Little Sharks doing big things,” Hudson remarked.

The MegaSharks spent months preparing for the finals by studying ship design, physics, circuitry, buoyancy, soldering and propulsion.

Among the materials used for the MegaSharks ROV were galvanized steel wire, shampoo bottles and wine bottle corks.

“As educators, we are always seeking moments of discovery from our students. The SeaPerch program and competition allowed us to witness these moments with regularity and in real-time,” Hudson continued.

Team members Chris Hooper, Paul Shanklin, Will Kiley and Connor Lynch secured their high ranking by finishing the “Obstacle” course with the fastest time in the entire competition, at 31.06 seconds.

Team DART from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts finished outside the top ten in the high school bracket.

Throughout 2018 more than 100 SERMC Sailors and Civilian volunteered to spend their off-duty time to help coach local students. SERMC will host the 2019 regional competition in the Spring at Cecil Aquatic Center in Jacksonville.

The SeaPerch program is a collaborative effort between the Office of Naval Research and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and seeks to give middle and high school students the opportunity to learn about robotics and science, technology, engineering and math, commonly referred to collectively as STEM.

For more information about SeaPerch, visit http://www.seaperch.org/.