Sea Dragons make top 10 in world championships

Posted 7/17/19

At their world championship last month, they struggled with technical problems, but came away with some valuable lessons, which is why the Sea Dragons have been the pride of Port Townsend, win or lose.

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Sea Dragons make top 10 in world championships

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At their world championship last month, they struggled with technical problems, but came away with some valuable lessons, which is why the Sea Dragons have been the pride of Port Townsend, win or lose.

The Port Townsend STEM Club “Sea Dragons” nonetheless placed eighth overall in the 2019 Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) International Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) World Championship Competition at Kingsport, Tennessee June 18-22.

“The power supply seemed to introduce some noise into the equation,” Ashford said. “When we were running off our own power supply, it worked fine, but we had to use theirs, and it made the cameras go dark — which, when you’re remotely operating an underwater robot, is obviously a problem.”

The team later determined the MATE power supplies caused noise in their camera feed because it was an unregulated power supply that did not have a filtered signal, whereas the batteries they used previously were “a clean DC signal.”

Fortunately, Nathaniel’s “photographic memory” was able to compensate for those visual outages to an extent, and Ashford regarded it as an example of how robotics tests students’ real-world skills.

“In the real world, even if you have a plan, you’re going to have problems, so you need to figure out how to work around them,” Ashford said.

Ella Ashford was joined by her two brothers, ninth-grader Nathaniel and seventh-grader Everest, as well as sixth-grader Ayden Ratliff and fellow high school graduate Logan Flanagan in representing the Sea Dragons, who were among the nearly 80 teams and roughly 800 individual contestants at the Kingsport Aquatic Center.

Nathaniel ensured the Sea Dragons would be able to respond more quickly and efficiently, should a similar problem arise in the future, by adding it to the team’s already comprehensive list of documentation.

“If you document your problems, you’ll have a better idea of what to do when it happens again,” Nathaniel said. “Even if it’s not the same problem, you’ll still have some good ideas for how to fix it.”

While the Sea Dragons didn’t perform as well in the robotics aspect of the competition as they would have liked, they were able to compensate by over-performing in other categories, thereby balancing out their scores somewhat.

“We did really well in marketing,” Ashford said. “Our technology documentation included 25 pages of explanations. We did really well on our safety inspection as well.”

Ashford herself won the Engineering Presentation Most Valuable Player Award.

Ashford hopes to step up their electrical systems next time, with more digital and fewer analog components, but she feels heartened that she and her teammates were able to suppress their initial panic over their robot’s malfunctions.

She also believes the Sea Dragons did well considering their relative youth, when pitted against teams of high school and college students, and in spite of the language barriers, she touted how well all the teams were able to collaborate on certain projects, as they borrowed parts and insights from one another.

Due to the significant expenses of the trip, the Sea Dragons are still fundraising to cover their costs, so Ashford invited those who wish to contribute to visit the team’s GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/seadragons.

As of July 15, they were $1,530 toward their goal of $5,000.

“Another fact is that we would not have been nearly as successful without our partnerships with Peninsula College, the Composite Recycling Technology Center and Hewlett-Packard,” Ashford said. “We worked with Peninsula College and the CRTC to manufacture our carbon fiber frame, and with HP to 3D-print our manipulator claw with their state-of-the-art fusion printing technique.”

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