Young engineers to vie for world championship

(Johan Govaars works on an Ocean Bottom Seismonitor recently as part of the Aptos High School underwater robotics team as they prepare to compete in a national event later this month. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

APTOS — Last year, the Aptos High School robotics team took top honors in both state and international competitions for building a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that performed a series of complex underwater tasks.

In doing so, the team bested competitors from around the globe.

The group of 12, who are aged 15-17, is called Watsonville Firefighters Seal Team 1272 after the group that sponsored them.

“The competition was an amazing experience and a great place to observe and learn from the machines other people built,” team programmer Pratham Rathi said.

ROVs are human controlled robots that are employed to solve a variety of jobs in places where humans cannot reach.

The ROV Jason, for example, was used to observe the wreckage of the sunken Titanic.

The team’s ROV is Argo V, a nod to the ship of Greek myth in which Jason and his compatriots sailed to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

Now, having again won the Marine Advanced Technology Education center annual ROV competition at Watsonville High School on May 12, the team is once again preparing to defend its international crown.

That competition — held this year in Seattle, Wash. from June 22-25 — draws elite young engineers from around the globe who pit their homebuilt, underwater robots against each other.


Members of the Aptos High School underwater robotics team put finishing touches on their robot. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

Those robots come complete with grabbers, probes and sensors — all designed and built by the students — and are controlled remotely.

This year’s competition tasks competitors from as far away as Hong Kong, Japan, India and Egypt with designing their robot to perform a series of tasks in a simulated environment.

This includes locating the wreckage of an airplane and returning its engine to the surface, installing an earthquake sensor and installing a device to monitor the environment.

Positions on the team include chief technical officer, vice president of safety and vice president of engineering.

VP of Software Jacob Sandler was tasked with programming the robot to recognize the musical tones that open and close the robot’s claw. His computer code also taught the device how to ignore background noise.

“There are a lot of opportunities that come with it,” he said of being a part of the team.

The pilots must complete their assigned tasks while looking only at video monitors linked to cameras on the robot, and moving it using controllers. The event is strictly timed.

Susan Walton, a parent on the team, said that the team gives the students vital experience with science, engineering, engineering and math fields, which still present barriers for girls.

“How cool is it that this is a group of girls and guys working together,” she said.


To support the Watsonville Firefighters Seal Team 1272 on its trip to International Competition, visit

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