For Immediate Release: May 18, 2011
By Geoff S. Fein, Office of Naval Research
ARLINGTON, Va.—Middle and high school students from across the U.S. and Hawaii will come armed with their remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and battle it out in the inaugural National SeaPerch Challenge, to be held May 23-25 in Philadelphia.
Co-sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the two-day event at Drexel University will give students the opportunity to drive their SeaPerch robots through an underwater obstacle course and compete to “Cap the Well,” in a simulated sea-floor oil spill similar to the 2010 Gulf disaster. The Naval Engineering Education Consortium oversees the National SeaPerch Challenge.
Created to help develop the next generation of naval engineers and scientists, ONR’s SeaPerch program is part of a national effort to inspire students, in particular girls and underrepresented communities, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. ONR has displayed SeaPerch at numerous events, including two science studio openings in Los Angeles and Bronx, N.Y., in October; National Robotics Week in April in Baltimore; and Fleet Week in New York City in June.
The SeaPerch progam will also be featured at the Naval STEM Forum June 15-16 in Alexandria, Va., where senior Navy leaders will outline their vision for the service’s STEM program, explore partnership opportunities with participants and discuss education outreach and research.
“SeaPerch has been a great way for ONR to show teachers, students and parents the importance of a STEM education,” said Dr. Kam Ng, ONR’s deputy director of research. “Having student teams build and compete their own robotic vehicles gives them a hands-on introduction to naval engineering, science and technology.”
The underwater robotics program teaches students to build propulsion and electrical control systems, develop a motor and sensor controller, investigate principles of weight and buoyancy, use tools safely and work together as a problem-solving team.
The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers manages ONR’s SeaPerch program and provides the basic kits to schools and groups. Students are encouraged to modify their ROV, Ng said. “That’s the innovation part.”
In 2010, 3,532 SeaPerch kits were delivered to schools in 36 states, Ng said, while more than 1,800 teachers/mentors were trained. There were 750 students across two states building ROVs when the program first started in 2007. Today, more than 27,000 students are involved in SeaPerch.
According to the Navy, Nearly 65 percent of current naval science and technology professionals are over age 40, and more than 50 percent will be retirement eligible by 2020. If not addressed, the expected shortage of skilled workers could decrease the nation's global competitiveness and result in a lack of expertise in mission-critical areas.
Research provided by the National Science Foundation shows the U.S. has fallen to 17th, from third in the world, in the number of college graduates in engineering programs. In the U.S., only 5 percent of science degrees are awarded in engineering, as compared with 50 percent in China.
About the Office of Naval Research
The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.