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      Students take the plunge and compete with underwater robots

      Dozens of Northern Michigan students will go head to head in an underwater robot competition.

      Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena will host teams of elementary, middle school, high school, and community college students, who will compete using underwater robots, known as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), that they designed and built.

      The Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition is an annual event that encourages students from all over the Great Lakes, to learn and apply science, technology, engineering, and math skills as they develop ROVs to complete missions that simulate real-world problems from the ocean workplace.

      ROVs are tethered underwater robots used in scientific research, ocean exploration, homeland security, the offshore oil and gas industry, and other industries.

      This yearâ??s contest highlights the role that ROVs play in the installation, operation, and maintenance of ocean observing systems, which are collections of high-tech instruments above and below the waves that provide around-the-clock information about what is happening in the ocean.

      Via fiber optic cable, the data collection equipment continuously communicates information to scientists, engineers and technicians who use it to understand and make predictions about the ocean, coast, and ocean resources.

      For example, meteorologists have used sensors and the Internet to monitor and predict weather for the past two decades. Ocean observing systems are now coming of age to provide critical information on climate, biological productivity, sea level change, tsunamis and other ocean hazards and toxic algal blooms, and much more.

      Teams participating in the Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition will perform a variety of underwater mission tasks, piloting their ROV to install a simulated power and communications â??hubâ?? and scientific instruments in order to complete a seafloor ocean observatory. They will also remove biofouling organisms from instruments and perform maintenance on moorings, among other tasks.

      The competition also encourages students to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and form companies that design, manufacture, market, and sell specialized products and services for shipwreck assessment and remediation.

      This requires them to solve problems in new and innovative ways, think creatively, work as part of a team, and understand all aspects of business operationsâ??important 21st century skills that will make them competitive in todayâ??s global workplace.

      Twenty-nine teams are participating from the following schools and after-school programs. The teams from Northern Michigan include:

      All Saints Catholic School, Alpena

      Alpena High School, Alpena

      Frankfort Elberta HS & Benzie Central HS, SEEDS After School Program

      Grand Traverse Academy, Traverse City

      Immanuel Lutheran School, Alpena

      Traverse City Central Senior High, Traverse City

      Willow Hill Elementary Falcons, Traverse City

      The competition takes place Saturday from 9am-4pm at the Alpena High School gym and Alpena County Plaza Pool.

      You can watch the 2012 Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition to get a better idea of what will take place Saturday.

      The Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition is one of 22 regional contests held around the world and managed by the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center .

      The winning teams will earn the opportunity to compete in the 12th annual International MATE ROV competition which will take place June 20-22 at the King County Weyerhaeuser Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington.