Mt. Laurel students head to international marine robotics competition in Houston


A select team of Harrington Middle School students known as the SeaBots will soon get to experience a simulation of the deep ocean that scientists believe is hidden beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s sixth moon Europa.

Or at least the students’ robot will.

From June 23 through June 25, Marine Advanced Technology Education students at Harrington Middle School of the Ranger class level will compete at the 15th annual MATE international ROV (remotely operated vehicles) competition at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In layman’s terms, the students will use robots they’ve built and remotely control them underwater.

Sponsored by The Marine Advanced Technology Education Center and the Marine Technology Society’s ROV Committee, the international competition will bring together students from middle school to university levels to compete by guiding ROVs they’ve engineered through complex missions.

Just one of this year’s missions involves a simulation where students will pilot ROVs as they explore the alien ocean of Europa, so Harrington’s SeaBots will explore a large pool at Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab using only the cameras mounted on their robotic creation to guide them.

Teamwork is key as the SeaBots will be required to pilot their robotic vehicles through tasks such as recovering mission critical equipment or connecting cables from a power hub.

Then beyond showcasing their engineering prowess, students will also compete by presenting themselves as companies that manufacture and sell ROV devices, meaning the students must be able to show their work through technical documentation and marketing skills.

Regardless of how the team ultimately places at the competition, SeaBots member Ethan Stillman said he’s grateful to have been a part of the team, as he’s learned skills he can apply to almost any aspect of life.

“We’ve learned so much in this year. I think I’ve learned more in this club in one year than I have in several classes in five or 10 years,” Ethan said.

Ethan’s teammate Vincent Cariello agreed, and said before his work with MATE, he didn’t know much about engineering at all.

“I’ve learned about marketing, how to do technical documentation, and just how to engineer, and not just regular engineering, but also advanced engineering like coding for the Arduino UNO (microcontroller board) that’s in our control box and doing electrical work and soldering wires and all of that,” Vincent said.

The SeaBots earned their place in Houston by competing at the MATE Regional Completion at Villanova University on May 7.

It was there the SeaBots Ranger level team took home awards such as first-place overall, first-place product demonstration, second-place marketing display and second-place technical demonstration.

Team member Daniel Lam said the competition in Houston would be a “big leap” in difficulty from what the SeaBots have previously experienced, but he and the team will be going in with the mindset of just doing the best they can

“It’s an international competition, so there’s a lot of teams there, but I think it’ll be a fun experience no matter what,” Daniel said.

Looking beyond the competition, team member Andrew McCorkle said the lessons he’s taken from MATE will influence his future for years to come.

“What we’re learning in this we’re actually able to apply to the real world, and it actually helps with our careers leading up to it,” Andrew said.