Good things do happen. They happen when you least expect it and in ways that are organic. In the case of my first extracurricular robotics team: WE BUILT A FREAKIN´ ROV! Now, to some that may not seem too exciting, but to my students and I, it was the culmination of a lot of thinking, designing, creating, rethinking, redesigning, and rebuilding over and over and over. Through engineering 101, this group of four young men and one young lady, came together in a way I have rarely seen. Each bringing a skill set and unique character to the remote operated vehicle (ROV) team. A team that would compete against giants.
At first I was not certain the interest was there. They loved learning skills like soldering and glueing and shrink wrapping, but the classroom part seemed to bore them. At one point I forsake the traditional seminar approach to buoyancy and said to one boy to go make the ROV neutrally buoyant; and he did. Letting go of the reins yet facilitating meetings and timelines made more sense for my group. They were inherently creative, scholarly young men and women. Why was I going to get in their way? So I maintained a degree of separation, close enough to monitor for safety concerns and ask critical questions but far enough to let them make decisions that would lead to the frame design, motor alignments, shroud coverings, and tool development. Heck they even went out of their way to paint the ROV a darker shade of red. A bloody good time was had by all.
To be fair, the support my group enjoyed, other than myself, included the MATE (marine advanced technology education) website and over $700 in tools, books, and kits that helped them to solve problems and determine what systems they were required to develop. YouTube videos of other teams and those posted by MATE, of the international ROV competition, provided food for thought and some insight into how the ROV should operate. These young people, as young as 13 and as old as 16, became engaged through their own research and some trial and error. One boy took on the responsibility of being the 3D printer guru, another ensured that the team was working in sync with what needed to be done, and another took it upon himself to find the appropriate ROV name: AEGIR; Norse god of the sea; feared by other Norse gods, sailers and the like. Awesome.
Our first trip to the local pool was interesting. Learning to drive an ROV using toggle switches proved to be...difficult. One would think that pushing buttons is fairly easy. Try it while viewing the underwater environment through a 6" screen. Craning their necks and positioning themselves away from the overhead lights; bent over like trees in a hurricane. Indeed the winds of providence played havoc with our only session with the NSCC judge, when he exclaimed that we had ten (10) minutes to complete all tasks...ugg. Needless to say the team did their best but after a while it was evident that some tasks were more insurmountable than others. Next year Mr. Butt. Next year. A litany of ideas for improvement came boiling to the surface. Expensive ideas. Enthusiastic, expensive ideas.
Good things even happen when events occur that might dictate otherwise. Despite the NSTU "work to rule" edict (which I wholeheartedly supported) and the resulting loss of three months worth of work, this first ever BJSHS (Bridgewater Jr./Sr. High School) after school ROV robotics group, came together to complete what we had started in September. The hiatus had been difficult, and we did lose a couple of members of the team. However those who returned, still fanning the embers of interest, brought a renewed focus and energy to the program. The slimmer team meant more hats for some to wear. It meant more responsibility.
Giants come in all shapes and sizes. The giants my Viking Robotics team faced were intelligent, engineers to be, of differing ethnicities, and skill sets, living within the Halifax Municipality. Four established robotics teams, with years of experience and accumulated materials with which to work. Teams sponsored by the Engineering Society of Nova Scotia, a Microsoft subsidary, Blue Robotics, etc. Teams with matching shirts, divided into mini-teams specializing in their own unique systems. With a budget of under $1000 our Viking Robotics team competed with teams developing $5000+ ROVs that utilized next level software, coding, and hardware. Our own version of the movie "Karate Kid" played out in front of our eyes.
We did not win this year; but we did give the judges the proper answers to their questions. We showed our enthusiasm and interest and intelligence. My students know their stuff. They are observant and competitive. After the experience we shared, our team will only get better.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have gone with a biblical name. There is always next year...