Drexel University hosted the Greater Philadelphia Area SeaPerch Challenge at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. Around 55 high school and middle school teams participated in the competition this year — making this one of the largest turnouts in the event’s 10-year history.
The competition itself revolves around the construction of an underwater robot, called the “SeaPerch,” and the navigation of two separate predetermined obstacle courses, which are located in the pools at the DAC. Points are awarded based on the speed of the remote-controlled robots’ performances maneuvering through the courses, including disarming a “mine” in the first course and locating two single emitting objects in the second.
Besides the main obstacle courses, there is also a “battle bots” contest for middle school teams, where students attempt to force each others robots out of an underwater ring. Additionally, high school students have the option to design and build a second robot without any budgetary or technical restrictions. There are judges present to oversee each team’s presentation of a poster, advertising a fictional robotics company and to score students’ team spirit and sportsmanship.
The first Philadelphia SeaPerch Challenge was in 2006, following the American Society of Naval Engineers Delaware Valley Chapter and the Philadelphia Naval Surface Warfare Center’s efforts to bring the program, which originally started at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to Drexel. The University began by organizing robotics training for teachers, in conjunction with the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of College and Career Awareness Secondary Robotics Initiative, and achieved their goal of hosting the pre-college robotics competition in June of 2006. Since then, the SeaPerch Challenge has continued to grow in popularity and attendance.
Drexel University’s science, technology, engineering and math program coordinator, Alistar Erickson-Ludwig, who is responsible for Drexel’s involvement in the event, said that seeing the enthusiasm and energy the students have proves a highlight of the event for judges and spectators.
“I basically oversee the planning and running of the competition. The Greater Philadelphia SeaPerch Challenge is a shared partnership between Drexel University and the Navy. In short, from the Drexel side … we plan the competition, recruit schools, recruit volunteers, train Drexel student mentors, etc. This process begins around October and runs until April.”
She continued, “The Drexel team oversees registration and recruitment of schools in October and November. We host a kickoff event in late November and early December and hold teacher training for new teams in December. In January and February we focus on recruiting volunteers and planning the logistics of the competition which takes place in April.”
According to Erickson-Ludwig, “The competition is about experiencing engineering though the building of an underwater robot. It is a dynamic and hands-on activity that helps young people explore the field of engineering and naval science. In addition, the competition requires students to submit a notebook about the design of their robot and to design a poster and give a poster presentation at the competition as well. These additional aspects support teamwork, creativity and soft skill development like writing and presenting.”
Much time and effort is dedicated to the SeaPerch Challenge annually in hopes of providing young students with practical and technical knowledge before college, as well as fostering teamwork and communication skills.