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Robotics international contest

Gahanna team maneuvers near top of competition

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Gahanna Science Academy students already are making plans for next year after finishing 10th from about 600 schools at the Marine Advanced Technology Education International Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle competition.

Gahanna's Nathan Alden, Chad Benninger and Ryan Richards, along with adviser Fred Donelson, made up one of only three high school teams that competed with two- and four-year universities from around the world June 20-22 in Seattle.

"To place 10th this year was a huge accomplishment for this team," Donelson said. "We added much more complex electronics to this machine compared to previous years and yet actually lowered the cost of the ROV by almost $500. Our goal was to show the world that you don't need big bucks to build a capable ROV for the missions. I think the kids clearly did that and earned the respect of judges and competitors alike."

Alden, who will be a senior in 2013-14, served as team pilot.

"I (learned) a lot from seeing how other robots perform," he said. "I saw how controls affected the scheme of things. My dad and I and teammates have started redesigning for next year."

Alden said many teams had far more experience than Gahanna.

"As a pilot, it was really stressful," he said. "A whole lot rides on you doing your job and getting it done right. Once out there, there was a lot we didn't expect. All and all, it was a fantastic experience getting to meet others in the field and talking to others about what they do and how it relates to what we do. I can't wait to do it next year."

Benninger, a 2012 Gahanna graduate, served as the team's quality-assurance and budget manager.

"As budget manager, I had to make a listing of all the expenses and come up with a grand total," he said. "I had a pie chart to see our largest expenses. We were pretending to be a company, and companies look at their biggest expense."

He said the team's three largest expenses were crucial components of the robot.

"So we were pretty efficient with the budget," Benninger said.

Looking at quality assurance, he studied the principles of Jack Barckhoff, a CEO of a manufacturing company.

"He came up with a system of reducing costs in manufacturing," Benninger said. "You see where you can reduce and make the company more efficient. We went through all that and listed what we did to reduce time and money."

The team hoped to win the "Biggest Bang for the Buck" award but was unsuccessful in that quest because of mission mishaps. Members had reduced their cost from about $1,330 last year to $750. Gahanna's competitors had ROVs ranging in price from $3,000 to $10,000.

"It was interesting because we were the only ones there with a 'bot made with a glue gun and zip ties," Benninger said. "It was inexpensive. We were quite proud of that. It was really cool to be there."

Because he's a freshman at Columbus State Community College, he hopes to return to the competition next year, possibly as a chaperone.

Gahanna competed against teams from Scotland, Egypt, Russia, China, Iran, Canada and Saudi Arabia, as well as such notable powerhouses as Purdue University, Arizona State University and Long Beach City College in California.

They competed for the first time in the upper division, known as the Explorer Class, which is considerably more difficult, Donelson said.

The competition involves running two missions in the water, writing a 25-page engineering report, presenting a technical presentation to judges who work in the underwater industry and producing a technical poster highlighting the attributes of the ROV.

Donelson's team actually scored higher than at least one of the top three teams in their presentation, report and display.

"We did everything well except our mission, which surprised us," Alden said. "Sometimes things just don't go your way."

On the first mission, after racking up a quick 100 points, the ROV's tether was tangled up and couldn't complete the mission. On the second mission, the gripper broke about four minutes into the mission, essentially ending the team's chances at an award.

"Had we done one more task on our first mission, we would have received the Biggest Bang for the Buck award, which is one we were really striving for," Donelson said. "It was really disappointing for the kids to be so close to a major award and miss it, but they handled themselves with class, and I think they learned a lot about how far you can go when you persevere."

He said he was especially pleased with the improvement shown in the engineering presentation.

"The kids were able to turn the engineering presentation to the judges into an engineering conversation with the judges," he said. "It was the best job by a Gahanna team since I have been here, and I was really proud of their performance."

Competing in the MATE competition was especially gratifying for Donelson, he said, as he saw several former students there, as well.

Former GLHS Science Academy students Collin Pittro and Ji Hoon Chun, who helped start the Ohio State University robotics team, were there to represent OSU in its first-ever international competition. OSU received the Explorer Team Spirit award.

Former Science Academy student Houston Fortney was one of the team leaders for the Purdue University team that also won an award.

Purdue and OSU ranked 17th and 18th, respectively.

"I would have had a lot of crow to eat had they beat us," Donelson said. "Of course, now they will be gunning for us next year."

Working in partnership with the Marine Technology Society ROV committee, MATE created the ROV competition as a way to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math and expose them to science and technology careers.

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