Workshops on underwater robotics

NOAA’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary offers workshops on underwater robotics.

Youth living in the Great Lake State have a golden opportunity to learn more about water science, stewardship and careers in underwater robotics (ROV’s), as a result of a shining jewel in Michigan’s shoreline crown: the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena.

Recently a group of 4-H educators visited the marine sanctuary to learn how to engineer and build ROV’s. Educators brought what they learned back to their clubs and communities in order to teach youth how to build these vehicles. The educators learned that ROV’s are unoccupied robots that can be maneuvered underwater. They are operated by a person, who pushes switches to send electrical signals through cables which are linked between the operator and the vehicle. The ROV’s these educators created are very simple machines; but more sophisticated ROV’s can be used for many purposes. Examples include internal and external inspections of pipelines, structural testing of offshore platforms and many other scientific activities, such as ocean exploration or expeditions broadcasted live through the internet.

The size of ROV’s can be as different as any engineering project; it all depends on creativity and the ROV’s purpose. 4-H educators quickly learned that there is some beauty in sending an ROV into the cold water of the pool, rather than diving in themselves. They also found that it takes practice to hand toggle and maneuver their vehicles back-and-forth, up-and-down in the water – much more difficult than it first seemed.

Aside from the ROV training, educators were given a tour of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Michigan’s east coast is often called the “sunrise-side” of the state. This is because Lake Huron fishermen see the sun coming up over the water before most other people in Michigan are rolling out of bed.

The Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system – known as "Shipwreck Alley." These shipwrecks have been preserved and represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes. They are readily accessible by kayakers, snorkelers and divers of all abilities. The exhibits, activities, education and outreach programs are hands-on experiential - allowing people to physically sense Great Lakes maritime heritage.

Recently, Michigan 4-H Educators were given the good news that training and scholarship funding (for some counties) are available for 4-H volunteers and teachers wishing to offer ROV projects with youth in their communities, clubs or classrooms. The training can be held at the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary. Alternately, sanctuary staff will accommodate local counties by making the trip to their communities if needed.

The overall goal is for this robotic training to lead to further investigation, ultimately inspiring groups to compete in increasingly more challenging engineering/robotics activities and events. 4-H educators are following the Michigan State University Institute for Children and Youth logic model to prepare youth who are critical thinkers, problem solvers and decision makers, some of whom just may consider future careers in the robotics field.

This came as a result of a long standing partnership between the North East Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI), the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Straits Area STEM Hub and Michigan 4-H.

Training is currently being scheduled for the coming year. Staff from the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary will work with Michigan 4-H Program Instructors and volunteers to tailor workshops (supplies, associated costs, etc.), and to accommodate as many groups as possible. Some scholarship funding may be available.

For more information visit the Michigan State University Extension 4-H page.

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