The Gateway High School robotics team SLAMBOT was able to walk away from the National SeaPerch Competition as the third-best team in the country.
Senior Mitchell Wohlfarth and sophomores Samuel Meshanko, Asher Passalinqua and Luke DiPalma traveled to the underwater robotics championship at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to compete against nearly 200 teams on May 21.
“We never expected to be there doing this well,” DiPalma, 16, said. “It was quite a shocker.”
The students were guided throughout the year by their teacher and mentor, Matt Stockunas.
“I'm very proud of how the whole thing turned out,” Stockunas said. “Whenever they found out they were going to nationals they put in countless hours.”
He said the team put in time after school and on weekends to make sure they were creating the best robot possible.
This was the first year the district was able to have a team go to the national competition, where teams used their robots, also known as remotely operated vehicles or ROVs, to complete an obstacle course.
“I think that the togetherness of the team as a whole was incredibly beneficial to the success of the team,” said Passalinqua, 16.
“Each one of us are all very close friends, so we were all able to contribute to the project and suggest any changes or modifications to be made to both the ROV and the presentation.”
The robots were built from kits comprised of supplies such as PVC pipe, motors and flotation devices. They were also allowed to spend $20 on additional materials.
The team was able to excel, in part, by coming up with a way to make the robot lighter in the water, which made their overall time faster and kept them under the $20 limit. They made their materials on a 3-D printer.
“That enabled our robot to be lighter and more hydrodynamic that other robots,” DiPalma said. “I didn't see any other teams that had thought of something like that.”
Stockunas said he was impressed with their idea to use the 3-D printer.
“I think that that was very innovative and creative on their part to come up with that idea,” he said. “They got to learn about the 3-D printing, they got to learn about the design aspect of Inventor (software), which they used to design the parts.”
While at the national competition, the students also got a taste of being on a college campus.
“We got to stay in the dorms,” Stockunas said. “I think it was a great experience — it kind of let them see what college life is going to be.”
Stockunas said he is looking forward to robotics competitions next year and hopes more students will take part. He teaches the SeaPerch skills in the honors robotics class and also the after-school computer club. He also hopes to get students from the middle school involved.
“This is just a great project for our students,” he said. “Hopefully, with people seeing the success that this group had and the support that they had from the school board and superintendent, that will get more students involved.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-871-2369 firstname.lastname@example.org.