Deep Sea Domination

Random items scatter the outdoor swimming pool at Santa Rosa Christian School, including a garbage can, hula hoop, rings and fish pictures.

(From Santa Rosa’s Press Gazette / by Sara Berres) —  The pool has transformed into a test lab for a group of students that participating in a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition this weekend at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.

Santa Rosa Christian School competed against five other schools: Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Apopka High School in Apopka, Lake Weir High School in Ocala, West Florida High School in Pensacola and Rickards High School in Tallahassee.

A group of approximately eight students at Santa Rosa Christian spent the last six months designing and building the vehicle, which will be responsible for completing missions similar to those done in exploration in the marine industry.

Physics teachers Adam Watt and John Gambold took five of the students: Joel Simmons, Will Blankenship, Hunter McKinnon, Chase Askins and Devin Zwolski, on Friday to the Sea Lab and will return Sunday.

The competition was funded by a grant from BP/ The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and is the result of a teacher workshop conducted at the Sea Lab in July. At the workshop, teachers, including Watt and Gambold, learned how ROVs were used during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and how they are used to unveil more of the ocean’s secrets.

After the workshop, Watt and Gambold returned to Milton with information about the competition and a few items to use for the ROV – such as three motors, propellers and a stipend to purchase a camera – but they were not allowed to help students develop the ROV.

“They did it all on their own,” Gambold said.

The students jumped right into designing and building the ROV.

“The first day we split into two teams to draw plans,” said Simmons, one of the team captains. “Within 15 minutes we were cutting PVC pipes.”

The process was a lot of trial-and-error and Blankenship, the other team captain, said the first trial wasn’t very successful.

“The first one flipped upside-down because of the buoyancy,” he said.

The second vehicle the team built – which is the final one they will use in the competition – is made of sealed PVC pipes, three motors, propellers, a camera – which is put inside a waterproof Pelican case -, a light, weights, pipe insulation and plenty of zip ties. The contraption, about 18 by 18 inches, is connected to a hand control that one of the team members duse to maneuver the vehicle through hoops, pick up rings, skim items off the top of the water, measure the size of photos of wildlife and simulate other missions.

The “pilot” of the ROV will watch on a screen and can’t see it in the pool during the competition, just like he wouldn’t see the robot from the boat.

The height and width had to be the same for all high schools, and the only other standardized items were the three motors. The students at Santa Rosa Christian school did fundraising to acquire funds to purchase the other materials and make the vehicle. They spent about $500.

The students and teachers are confident with their machine but are expecting Apopka High School to be tough competition, as they have robotic classes at their school. The team hasn’t consulted with any of the other high schools about the competition.

“I think the robotics team has a little jump on us, but we have a pretty good chance of being (at the top),” Hunter McKinnon said.

Watt said the purpose of the competition is to get students interested in underwater research, and not only the students have learned a lot – the teachers have too.

Tina Miller-Way, chairwoman of the Sea Lab’s Discovery Hall Programs for Education and Outreach, said new technologies and ROVs are playing a role in discovering many new things about the ocean and opening up new fields of work and study in marine science.

“What better way to share our excitement and knowledge of this than to work with teachers and high school students who are thinking about that next step?” she said.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Dauphin Island Sea Lab will hold another Deep-C ROV teacher workshop this summer, July 7 to July 11. For more information, visit

“GoMRI In the news” is a reposting of articles about GoMRI-funded research (published by various news outlets). The author’s interpretations and opinions expressed in these articles is not necessarily that of GoMRI.