Teenagers build underwater robots in Guam

By Maria Hernandez, AP

HAGATNA, Guam — Staring through the glass of a tunnel aquarium, teenage students coordinated the movement of homemade robots through an underwater obstacle course.

The students, part of a group of 20, 15- to 17-year-olds who were taking part in a two-week sustainable technologies clinic put on by Guam Community College (GCC), were inside a tunnel beneath a water tank at Underwater World in Tumon, in the U.S. territory of Guam.

“I’m teaching them about marine sustainability and not just teaching them why corals are important, but teaching them, ‘Hey, there’s a job out there,”’ said the program’s director A.J. Sunga, a science professor at GCC. “’You could build robots to survey the land. You can build robots to search and rescue someone. You can build robots to do the science and help in sustainability.’”

The robotics course, held at GCC, is one segment of a six-day clinic on sustainable technologies. Students learn about sustainable design concepts for fossil fuels, photovoltaics and wind energy.

In groups of four, students designed and built robots to help them better understand the connection between marine robotics and environmental sustainability.

One team included Fredlyn Rose Lumogda, a senior at Tiyan High School, and Ann Aleise Kealihek, a home-educated eighth-grader.

Their team, called H20, used a three-blade propeller, motor and floats to keep their robot buoyant enough to move along the underwater course.

“The simplicity really helped the buoyancy,” Lumogda said. “If it were any more complex, it would have just sunk.”

In the first phase of the clinic, students learned about buoyancy and the science behind engineering a robot, Sunga said.

Students drew up their own blueprints and cut PVC pipe. The robots were simple.

“All I did was give them motors and a control, and I gave them uncut PVC pipe,” Sunga said. “Then I said, ‘OK, let’s go and start cutting.”’

The process consisted of countless bouts of trial and error, Sunga said. While some students admired their designs, they would quickly realize they weren’t entirely functional and return to the drawing board, he said.

After one full day of design and building at GCC, the students tested their designs in a swimming pool. Wednesday was the third day of the clinic, and students took to Underwater World in Tumon to put their bots to the test in the tunnel aquarium.