Robotics competition takes a dive

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - If you want to raise a high school robotics competition to a whole new level of skill and problem solving just add water.

Over the weekend, for the first time, an underwater robotics competition was held here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The teams said the challenges had them putting on their thinking caps.

Many of the 25 Mississippi and Louisiana teams were veteran robotics competitors, but at the Gulf Regional Seaperch Challenge in Biloxi many students admitted they felt like a fish out of water.

"You have to navigate through an obstacle course of two-foot hula hoops," said Chris Perkins, an 11th grader. "Then lift as many buckets as you can from the bottom of the surface by floating them. "

The head-to-head, timed competition was a cross between elation and agony.

"It just makes me so nervous. Just makes me feel weird," said Kananh Kingkemp, a sixth grader.

The National Defense Education Program wanted to show students the differences between operating on land and underwater where drag and currents have a huge affect on maneuverability.

Officials said, the obstacle course and bucket floatation exercises teach about buoyancy, propulsion, adjusting line of sight, all challenges Navy researches face every day.

Joe Calantoni of the National Defense Education Program said, "It's real life size robots like the ones the kids built here are like the ones that were responsible for the pictures that we got to see from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They are in fact folks that work out of the Oceanographic Office at Stennis Space Center who do this for a living. It's their job to operate ROVs, underwater ROVs for the Navy."

The competition was also a chance for students to challenge themselves and expand their problem solving skills.

"I think we've seen, today, that kids can surprise you," said Calantoni. "They really come up with some creative solutions."

"Teaching them to do different stuff and not getting stuck into building the same stuff over and over again. Then if you have to do something completely different you're prepared for it and you're ready to do it," Perkins said.

The Navy hopes, over the next few years, these kids will be ready to be the next generation of Navy researchers. The University of Southern Mississippi and the Naval Research Laboratory also sponsored the competition.

Copyright 2012 WLOX. All rights reserved.