- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) - Staring through the glass of a tunnel aquarium, teenage students coordinated the movement of homemade robots through an underwater obstacle course.

The students, part of a group of 20, 15- to 17-year-olds who were taking part in a two-week sustainable technologies clinic put on by Guam Community College, were inside a tunnel beneath a water tank at Underwater World in Tumon.

“I’m teaching them about marine sustainability and not just teaching them why corals are important, but teaching them, ‘Hey, there’s a job out there,’” said the program’s director A.J. Sunga, a science professor at Guam Community College. “‘You could build robots to survey the land. You can build robots to search and rescue someone. You can build robots to do the science and help in sustainability.’”

The robotics course, held at GCC, is one segment of a six-day clinic on sustainable technologies. Students learn about sustainable design concepts for fossil fuels, photovoltaics and wind energy.

In groups of four, students designed and built robots to help them better understand the connection between marine robotics and environmental sustainability.

One team included Fredlyn Rose Lumogda, a senior at Tiyan High School, and Ann Aleise Kealihek, a home-educated eighth-grader.

Their team, called H20, used a three-blade propeller, motor and floats to keep their robot buoyant enough to move along the underwater course.

“The simplicity really helped the buoyancy,” Lumogda said. “If it were any more complex, it would have just sunk.”

In the first phase of the clinic, students learned about buoyancy and the science behind engineering a robot, Sunga said.

Students drew up their own blueprints and cut PVC pipe. The robots were simple.

“All I did was give them motors and a control, and I gave them uncut PVC pipe,” Sunga said. “Then I said, ‘OK, let’s go and start cutting.’”

The process consisted of countless bouts of trial and error, Sunga said. While some students admired their designs, they would quickly realize they weren’t entirely functional and return to the drawing board, he said.

After one full day of design and building at GCC, the students tested their designs in a swimming pool. Wednesday was the third day of the clinic, and students took to Underwater World in Tumon to put their bots to the test in the tunnel aquarium.

“It’s great that Underwater World gave us a chance to come here and actually do this experiment,” Sunga said. “Prior to this, we actually worked at a swimming pool, but you don’t see the connectivity to real life. So now the kids can actually go to a real aquarium and actually work their design.”

Two members of each four-person group remained in the tunnel where they used walkie-talkies to communicate with team members at another part of the aquarium who maneuvered the bots with a remote control.

“Science is all about collaboration,” Sunga said. “You need to work with other people.”

Each team was timed as members collaborated in guiding their respective robots between small yellow buoys at varying depths. While a few teams made it through the entire course, some design flaws hindered bots from getting past the first few obstacles.

High energy and excited chatter filled the tunnel as the propeller of one of the robots fell off.

“It was a design problem,” Sunga said of the robot. “But you guys did a good job.”

Applause erupted as students cheered on the team’s effort.

Lumogda and Kealihek said they were proud of their team’s robot for making it through the whole course.

The only problem they faced, they said, was technical difficulties with their walkie-talkies that made it hard for them to communicate with their teammates.

Kaelihek said her mom first introduced her to robotics and she begrudgingly went along with it.

“My mom really made me do it and I was so mad, but once I started doing it, I really liked it,” she said.

Linda Usita, a parent who attended the course, said she’s happy her daughter could take part in the clinic.

“It’s nice to be able to be with a group and do something meaningful and open their minds to what type of jobs and careers are there,” Usita said. “In Guam, we just depend on the ocean so much so I think it’s a great opportunity.”

She added: “We have a lot of talent here in our area. We just have to give them the opportunity and encouragement to do it.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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