Mount Everett robotic team places 3rd at qualifier for National SeaPerch Challenge

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This story's headline has been corrected to to reflect that the event was a regional quilifier.

NEW BRITAIN, CONN. — Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield has added two more robotics competition trophies to its collection.

On Friday, the senior-laden aquatic robotics team of Ping Marshall, Nick LeGey, Connor Blodgett, Shoji Rinaldi and Jeremy Chatham took third place in the two events held during a regional qualifier to the National SeaPerch Challenge in June.

The high school robotics program in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District school has been highly successful in land-based robotics tournaments in recent years. The crowning achievement was reaching the First Tech Challenge World Championships in St. Louis four years ago.

Mount Everett coach and technology teacher Chris Thompson declared the school's first underwater performance a success, having beat out 22 of the 25 high schools in the pool at Central Connecticut State University.

"I was pleasantly surprised. The robot ran well," he told The Eagle on Sunday. "These kids had never done underwater before, but they were committed to the process of preparing for the competition."

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Thompson noted only the Connecticut schools entered were eligible to qualify for the national championship on Friday. The Massachusetts qualifier is April 6 in New Bedford, but Mount Everett will forgo the event and look to improve for next year.

The SeaPerch Challenge begins with timed runs of the robot through a five-hoop underwater obstacle course. The submersible is hooked up to a 50-foot tether with electrical wires to a 12-volt battery and the operator's controller. The other end is attached to the simple-looking robot made of PVC pipe, also used to construct the obstacle course.

The second challenge, dubbed the Rescue and Recovery Mission, was inspired by the subterranean rescue of 12 students from a flooded cave in Thailand last summer. Each team had 15 minutes to score points by performing four tasks: attaching a magnet to a sensor to turn on a light, go through a vault to retrieve weighted wiffle balls, bring the balls to a platform and recover a disabled SeaPerch robot at the bottom of the pool.

Unlike the Lego-based or First Tech robotic competitions that use sophisticated, computer-programmed robots, the aquatics machine relies on mechanics, electronics and understanding the properties of maneuvering under water. The playing field is multidimensional, as the robot has to move forward, backward, up and down. It's crucial the robot driver's eyes adjust to seeing the submersible in action.

However, the Mount Everett team constantly fine-tuned — as they would a land-based robot — the underwater machine in a 150-gallon test tank at the school. The true test came during the local team's four practice sessions in the Kilpatrick Athletic Center pool at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington.

"Without that, we wouldn't have done as well. We're very thankful to Simon's Rock," Thompson said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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