Underwater robotics competition for youth to take place at Savannah Chatham County Aquatic Center this May

Approximately twenty student teams from educational institutions across the southeast will be traveling to the Savannah Chatham County Aquatic Center to compete in the Gray’s Reef Southeast MATE ROV Competition on May 7, 2022. The annual event is one of 41 regional qualifiers across the United States and the globe. Teams will be competing for a spot at the MATE ROV World Championship happening from June 23 to 25, 2022 in Long Beach, California. Event themes vary from year to year, but the objective remains the same: student participants are challenged to build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to tackle simulated tasks based on real-world problems or circumstances. 

For the competition, students are asked to think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Teams must work together as a startup to build and operate an ROV to fulfill the needs of the marine science and technology community. This year’s event is focused on ROVs undertaking underwater mission simulations that restore oceans through sustainable practices. The underwater mission scenarios are to mimick those conducted in our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (NMS), which is located just off the coast of Georgia and is one of the largest near-shore, live-bottom reefs of the southeastern United States at 22 square miles.

Jody Patterson has been a crew member of the NOAA Gray’s Reef NMS since 2009 working in public outreach and education programs. She’s also served as the regional coordinator for the Gray’s Reef Southeast Regional Mate ROV Competition since 2014. Through her work as the Chapter Director of the competition, Patterson conducts teacher training for skills development, offers outreach for public engagement in ocean sciences, and runs the annual, skills-based regional competition for student teams across the southeast. 

“Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation hosts programs intended to stimulate learning about our coastal ecosystem and ocean sciences through innovative, experiential learning opportunities, participatory projects, and conservation-focused fundraising campaigns,” explains Patterson. “We have hosted the regional MATE ROV Competition since 2004 for student teams, educating youth and communities on how to build a sustainable future through this STEM-focused environmental education program and have prepared schools to accel in the underwater robotics challenge by offering professional development training for teachers. Also of great importance for our education programs is increasing diversity in STEM pathways by providing all regional students the opportunity to discover real-world operations in ocean industries.”

The program offers five different classes broken down by the complexity of the project and the skill levels of competitors. Youth participants range in ages from elementary students to college students. Classes include:

  • Scout Class (entry-level) – For elementary schools, middle schools and beginning high schools that are new to the program and have no or limited experience with robotics.
  • Navigator Class (intermediate level) – For Middle schools with robotics experience, high schools new to robotics, and advanced elementary schools with robotics experience.
  • Ranger Class – (experienced) For high schools and middle schools with robotics experience.
  • Pioneer Class – For first time technical, community, and four-year colleges
  • Explorer Class – (advanced) For universities, colleges, and high schools that have previously participated in the MATE ROV Competition. 

The winning Ranger, Pioneer, and Explorer class teams will have the opportunity to advance to the global stage in Long Beach. Ranger class teams will be competing for a chance to move forward. Until they have competitors, the brand new Pioneer class and Explorer class must only demonstrate their vehicle’s ability in order to move onto the World Championship.

The competition is open to all student teams in the southeastern U.S., or those exceedingly far from other regional sites. This year’s local participating teams include Savannah Technical College, Tybee Island Maritime Academy, St. Andrew’s School, Woodville Tompkins Career and Technical High School, the STEM Academy at Bartlett, and Oglethorpe Charter School. It’s important to note that the southeast competition will see the 2021 Mate ROV World Champions competing: North Paulding High School from Dallas, Georgia.

Patterson says that while currently, all teams entered in the competition hail from schools, being a part of an educational institution is not a requirement for participation.We welcome home school groups, after-school clubs, Scouts, 4H, and other extracurricular or youth civic groups to form a team and compete! While we do not allow adult or professional teams, those interested should reach out about mentoring regional youth or volunteering to support the event,” she shares.

Registration for the Gray’s Reef Southeast regional qualifier closes for teams on April 22, 2022. Individual students may continue to register and join a team until May 5, 2022. While the event will be in-person for competing teams, the in-person portion of the event is closed to the public. For those interested in participating as a spectator, an online livestream video of the ROV action will be offered on May 7th from 9AM to 4PM at graysreeffoundation.org.

Learn more about the 2022 Gray’s Reef Southeast MATE ROV Competition at https://graysreeffoundation.org/event/mate-rov-competition/.

About the MATE ROV Competition:

The MATE ROV Competition uses remotely operated vehicles (a.k.a. underwater robots) to inspire and challenge students to learn and creatively apply science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to solve real-world problems and strengthen their critical thinking, collaboration, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

About Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation:

The mission of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is to support and strengthen Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary as a unique and vital landmark for the community and the nation through charitable and educational purposes.

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About Kait Lance

Kait has been writing for The Creative Coast since 2014. A self-proclaimed "startup hype-woman," she is passionate about storytelling that shines a light on new ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the southeastern Georgia region.