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Students impress experts with robotics skills

Meeting of minds: back row, Warwick Academy robotics club members An Mei Daniels, Jayson Outerbridge, Liam Flannery, Candela Mataix and Rachael Betschart. Front, roboticist Adam Canter, RSE executive director John Rizzi, and Eric Totten, the robotics club supervisor at Warwick Academy. The robot on the right was made by students

An ROV robot developed by Warwick Academy students has earned high praise from leading engineers and scientists.

The team that developed the lionfish catching Guardian LF1 submersible — unveiled at Ariel Sands this week — paid a visit to the school on Thursday morning to talk to students in the after school robotics club and drew comparisons with their own invention.

Five students in the club are planning to enter it into the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences ROV Competition which takes place at the National Stadium today.

Their ROV is designed to complete five tasks that have been set as part of the contest and has features including lasers, a camera and an arm with a pincher.

The club’s supervisor Eric Totten told The Royal Gazette: “Having those guys come in today, they were saying how much some of the stuff on ours is similar to what they have done. Ours is built with the intention of completing the tasks in the challenge rather than catching lionfish.

“This year we had Geoff Gardner, who is an engineer, come and help us — that has taken us to a new level with this and given us new ideas. There’s a lot more sophisticated computer controls and programming and a lot more Stem-type course work in it than the introductory ROVs we designed last year. That was made out of PVC piping but this year the students used acrylic as well as a bilge pump and electrical wiring.

“There are four motors to it, an arm, servos to help move the joints and pincers, lasers to measure distance but they don’t work. That is OK — our motto is the quicker you fail, the quicker you succeed because you have to make mistakes to do it right.”

Mr Totten said that learning the skills to build robots has wide-ranging benefits for his students due to its interdisciplinary approach.

“There are so many different elements of school that come into it — not only is it science and maths, it is computer science, engineering. You also need artists and people who have ideas that are outside of the box and bring a different perspective to it. Anyone with an interest in it can become involved.

“The skills you get out of working on these projects will translate to many different fields and types of job.” School principal Dave Horan said the robotics club reflected the school’s push towards the sciences.

“We are trying to build that side of what we offer — it is very trendy and the children enjoy it. But it is also about growing science practically — not just classroom-based science.

“The tangent point is that science is a massive part of what we offer. We have experienced huge growth in science in the last five years and we want to get children doing more. Robotics is just one area. We are also developing our dock into a wet classroom environment so they can get down and do practical activities in the sea. We can offer it to the community as well.

“The other point with science is we have introduced an accelerated science pathway in Year 10 at age 14 for the GCSEs, so we now offer all three sciences in an accelerated time. We can offer this to students at any school.”

Students at Warwick Academy were brimming with pride after completing their robotics project.

They described the work they had been doing and how they found the task in hand.

Rachael Betschart, Year 7, said: “We have been working on tasks for the robot to complete so we can pick things up, turn things, move things around.”

An Mei Daniels, Year 9, explained the four categories in the competition: “We had to maintain a fountain light show, we had to examine containers that have fallen off a ship, and construct a hyper loop [a high-speed transport system] and we have to clean up the environment.”

Jayson Outerbridge, Year 8, said: “I enjoyed making the whole ROV and I really enjoyed seeing the RSE robot. Driving it was really cool as well.”

Liam Flannery, Year 9, explained that the ROV was controlled with a PS2 controller. “This year we have variable speeds we can control — the harder you push, the faster the motors move. We have also got an arm that we can use with servos to pick up things.”

Candela Mataix, Year 7, enjoyed seeing how the design had improved over time. “We had the idea of a PVC pipe but then we evolved to acrylic frame — it looks so cool. It looks like it could be a high-level robot now.

“We did some things that didn’t work so it would be nice next year to look back at those things and improve them so next year it would be so much better.”