(May 07, 2018) --

The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Discovery Hall Programs wrapped its 6th annual Northern Gulf Coast Regional ROV Competition on Sunday, May 6. The competition is a part of the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) network of 31 regional competitions held across the United States and around the world.

Each team designed and built an underwater robot to compete in missions created by MATE. This year’s theme, Jet City: Aircraft, Earthquakes, and Energy, challenged the teams to locate and recover a vintage airplane, install or recover a seismometer, and install a tidal turbine and instrumentation to monitor the environment. In addition to the ROV missions, students presented their ROV ‘company’ design plans and implementation procedures to their peers and a panel of judges. 

The competition continues to grow, not just with the number of teams, but also with the variety of ROVs. 

"When we started out, there was just a few ROVs that included advanced components," DISL ROV Competition Coordinator Rachel McDonald said. "Now, we're seeing lots of different tools, including hydraulic arms. We also see a lot of variety across the competition classes with cost and build time. This year ROV costs ranged from $125 to $4,500, and build time from eight hours to 120 hours.”

Teams put a great deal of time and work into researching and building their competition ROVs. The building process can be a bit of MacGyver work with the students using items like game controllers, the base of a fan, remote control boat motors, and a lot of recycled PVC pipe. With 3D printing becoming more common in schools, some teams designed and printed the components they needed, saving time and money. 

Nearly two dozen teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi competed during the three day event. Some teams were repeat teams, and others were just starting out.

Teams competed in three classes: RANGER , NAVIGATOR , and SCOUT. Each class increased difficulty in the missions with the Ranger class offering a chance to compete on the international level. 

"This year, we had several new SCOUT teams of third, fourth, and fifth graders. We saw them at the side of the pool getting so excited when their ROV was working and they loved it. Some of these students  have never done anything like this before," McDonald said.  "It's been really exciting to have the repeat teams and the new teams and seeing the younger teams wanting to move up in our programs."

The work of InnovOcean of Carrollton High School at the pool side and in their presentation earned the Georgia team a chance to compete in the International MATE ROV Competition to be held in Federal Way, Washington in June. 

In the NAVIGATOR class competition, Ursa Apex Robotics from Cottonwood, Alabama took top honors. This team placed second in the 2017 competition in the same competition class. Wicksburg School’s AquaTech team from Newton, Alabama placed second this year after winning first place in the 2017 SCOUT Class competition. River City Robotics of River City Early College High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi placed third. 

The SCOUT class competition was a tight race among the top teams with only nine points separating first and second place. Bayside Academy of Daphne, Alabama placed first followed by Next Robotics of Walker High School in Louisiana. Blenny and the Jets from Donnie Bickham Middle School in Shreveport, Louisiana rounded out the top three in the competitive Scout class.

The Buoyancy award given to the team that shows the ability to rise after difficulties, went to the youngest team competing this year, the Acorns to Oaks Aquabots from Slidell, Louisiana. The Aquabots faced several challenges before even reaching the competition floor, but didn't let anything keep them from competing. 

Masters of the Reef from Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach, Florida received the Tethered Together award, which is given for exceptional teamwork when faced with problems. The Masters, faced with malfunctioning motors at the pool, worked together to troubleshoot and find alternative methods for completing their tasks. 

A third specialty award went to Tyrannus, Inc. of Washington Middle School in El Dorado, Arkansas in recognition of the team's commitment to the educational mission of the competition.

To learn more about the ROV programs offered by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Discovery Hall Programs, visit disl.org/dhp/rov-programs/.

2018 Northern Gulf Coast Regional ROV Competition Winners


Carollton High School

Carrollton, Georgia

Ranger, 1st Place
Ursa Apex Robotics

Cottonwood High School

Cottonwood, Alabama

Navigator, 1st Place
Wicksburg AquaTech

Wicksburg School

Newton, Alabama

Navigator, 2nd Place
River City Robotics

River City Early College High School

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Navigator, 3rd Place
Poseiden Project

Bayside Academy

Daphne, Alabama

Scout, 1st Place
Next Robotics

Walker High School

Walker, Louisiana

Scout, 2nd Place
Blenny and the Jets

Donnie Bickham Middle School

Shreveport, Louisiana


Scout, 3rd Place
Aqua Bots

Acorns to Oaks

Slidell, Louisiana


Buoyancy Team Award
Masters of the REEF

Surfside Middle School

Panama City Beach, Florida


Tethered Together Award
Tyrannus, Inc.

Washington Middle School

El Dorado, Arkansas


Specialty Award