Co-Lin robotics team to make sixth appearance at international competition

Team PhotoCo-Lin’s Seawolf Underwater Robotics Engineering (SURE) team is preparing for their sixth appearance at the international Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) International Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Competition. Each year, the team builds a new underwater remotely operated vehicle tasked with completing various underwater missions in a simulated environment. This year’s competition will be held at Long Beach City College in Long Beach, California June 23-25, where approximately 60 teams representing 25 countries will be in attendance. According to Co-Lin physics and engineering instructor and team co-founder Dr. Kevin McKone, only about half of the teams are from the United States. “There are teams from Russia, Egypt, China, and Canada,” McKone said.

“Carey Williamson and myself started the team about six years ago,” said McKone. “We were looking for STEM related activities for our students and we got an invitation to go to Monterey, California to start a robotics program. We spent two weeks learning how to build underwater robots.”

A variety of skill sets are needed to ensure a successful robotics program. “Carey’s specialty is electronics and mine is physics. We recruited our drafting and design instructor and got support for several other instructors at Co-Lin. We entered our first competition six years ago in Orlando, Florida” McKone said.

The team made news in 2015 when they placed fourth internationally and again in 2016 when they placed eighth internationally. McKone said businesses have hired students from the Seawolves team to run remotely operated vehicles in their industry.

“This is a big deal for our area,” he said. “Many of our people work offshore, and most oil platforms have these underwater robots. We’ve had some of our students hired out by these companies to drive and maintain underwater robots.”

“We have a company in Robert, Louisiana, SeaTrepid, that’s been really supportive of the work we do,” McKone said. “During the Macondo Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, SeaTrepid was one of the companies tasked with cleaning up the spill. How do you cap it? How do you stop it? These ROVs are tools that can be used to stop oil. There is also a lot of work being done with fiber optics and trying to monitor ocean temperatures and currents. These ROVs are used to install fiber optics underwater.”

The Seawolves involve a number of students from Co-Lin, with a variety of majors. The team forms an entire business around the robot, with a CEO and ad department. There are many opportunities for students outside of STEM classes to get involved. “We have English majors, Pre-Medical Biology, Chemistry, Biology Research, Drafting and Design, Graphic Design and Engineers,” said McKone. “Our English, Pre-Med, Biology Research, and graphic design majors have the responsibility of writing the technical reports,” he said. “They also have to do media outreach which includes writing a press release. They will have to participate in a technical presentation where they present the robot to judges from the underwater robots industry.”

During this year’s competition, Seawolf VI ROV will be tasked with taking a soil sample, opening and closing valves, completing a safety obstacle, and other difficult tasks. Tasks are completed in a 12-foot-deep pool. “This is challenging, especially with the underwater nature of the project,” McKone said. “No matter how the robot performs, I’m extremely proud of our students.”

CUTLINE: Seawolf Underwater Robotics Engineering (SURE) members front row from left, Holly Steen of Wesson, Dezirae Katt of Bogue Chitto, Virginia Mullins of Mendenhall, Dr. Kevin McKone (Mentor), Carey Williamson (Mentor), and Colby Phillips of Brookhaven; back row from left, Mary Thornton of Brookhaven, Aaron Tate, Timothy Stogner of Bogue Chitto, Charlie Miles of Wesson, Sam Brister of Summit, and Reginald King of Wesson. Not pictured is Abigail Hynum of Wesson, Wes Burkett and Celeste Williamson (Mentors). SURE students attended Underwater Intervention 2017 in New Orleans, LA, the preeminent event for the commercial diving and underwater ROV industry. CEO Reginald King and Dr. Kevin McKone presented at the event.

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