NSWCPD VIrtually Hosts 2021 SeaGlide and SeaPerch Challenge – DVIDS


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The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) virtually hosted the 2021 Greater Philadelphia SeaGlide and SeaPerch Challenge, which took place on April 22 (SeaGlide) and April 23 (SeaPerch).

SeaGlide and SeaPerch are innovative underwater robotics programs designed to generate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by giving teachers and students the resources to design underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. SeaGlide and SeaPerch teaches basic science and engineering concepts and more importantly critical thinking and experiential learning, while exposing students to exciting careers in naval architecture and naval, ocean, and marine engineering.

This season has moved to virtual with a focus on engineering design and in-service engineering support. Also, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pool part of the competitions this year was deemed optional.

The SeaGlide Challenge kicked off with an introduction by Susan Jansen Varnum, Ph.D, Temple University’s Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs and Science Education and Tristan Wolfe, NSWCPD STEM Outreach Program Manager. Then the teams launched into their presentation rooms, where they explained their digital SeaGlide designs.

The breakout segment followed next, where the students entered the Circuitry and Coding Challenge rooms. After lunch, the teams participated in a new competition challenge for this year: “Bug Hunt Challenge”, where the students had to virtually repair a “broken” version of a circuit.

Pivoting to the virtual stage for competitions that traditionally took place in swimming pools with real seagoing models was a change that everyone took in stride.

“Of course, we’re anxious to get back into the pool and really focusing in on the important aspects of project based learning and hands-on building and testing,” said Wolfe. “However, I am really pleasantly surprised at how well the teams adapted this year to software and modeling environments. In fact, I’m pretty confident that many of the things we tried out this year will be making it into future year competitions to enhance the overall direction of these programs.”

NSWCPD Commanding Officer Capt. Dana F. Simon served as a special guest speaker, saying, “I’m glad to be with you here today. Last year’s SeaGlide competition was very cool! To see the energy and the challenges the students had to overcome, I really enjoyed it. I was certainly looking forward to attending this year’s competition, but, unfortunately, the pandemic changed our plans.”

Capt. Simon continued, “Thank you for undertaking this year’s challenge. It’s very relevant in the world today. You used some technological innovation to make your SeaGlide craft successful. What you’re doing now is a great preparation to take your career into engineering. At NSWCPD, we do a lot of research and development, testing and evaluation. The crews of our submarines and ships really depend on the systems that we as a technical community design, develop and manufacture. They have to be maintainable and reliable and perform as expected. What you’re doing now is the start of that process.”

Capt. Simon answered questions from the students about his career, including his various duty stations and his inspiration to serve in the Navy.

SeaGlide awards winners:

First place in presentation: Pennsbury High School

First place in the White Paper: STEM UP After School Program

First place in the Find a Fix Challenge: Pennsbury High School

First place Circuitry and Coding: Pennsbury High School

First place in Bug Hunt: Pennsbury High School

Overall Winner: Pennsbury High School

For the students, they had to rethink the processes and methodologies used to create their robot.

“This year we had to rethink how to do everything. We were first talking about ideas and drawing diagrams,” said Riya Lakhani from Pennsbury High School. “It was really confusing because you couldn’t be there physically to correct someone’s drawing and also, sharing ideas was hard. But we overcame and adapted and were able to create a hydrodynamic and functioning bot.”

In the SeaPerch Challenge, teams rotated between presentation and STEM activity rooms, where they participated in Coding, VPerch, and Virtual Vex Robotics sessions.

The SeaPerch Challenge’s special guest speaker Michael L. Klein, FRS, Dean of Temple University College of Science and Technology, reflected on technology’s evolution over his career and advised students “to continue their hard work, have fun, and do their homework!”

Capt. Simon also served as a guest speaker during the SeaPerch competition, saying, “What you’ve done is a testament to your dedication and commitment. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult the virtual learning has been, but you all have persevered. Then you add on SeaPerch responsibilities to your regular schoolwork … I congratulate you on your efforts.”

He continued, “The machines you have created shows what you can do and where you can go in the future. STEM is a very important subject for our country to keep up our edge. The world revolves around technology and innovation, so I applaud you for taking this on. It will definitely help you in the future. With the pandemic, you had to switch to a digital mode of working on your SeaPerch watercraft. Life will throw a lot of curveballs at you and you have to be able to hit those. Hopefully, this will serve as a great learning experience.”

SeaPerch Award Winners:

Middle School Division

Presentation: Haddonfield Middle School

Technical Design Report: Southeast DelCo School District

ASNE Engineering Process Award: Danville Middle School

Overall Champion: Haddonfield Middle School

High School Division

Presentation: STEM UP After School Program

Technical Design Report: STEM UP After School Program

Vehicle Performance: Central High School

ASNE Engineering Process Award: Pennsbury High School

Overall Champion: STEM UP After School Program

Make-A-Splash Award (new): Haddonfield Middle School

Looking ahead, Wolfe plans to redesign next year’s SeaGlide and SeaPerch challenges with elements from this year’s events.

“We definitely want to get back into the pool, but also to use some of the lessons learned to grow these programs,” noted Wolfe. “For SeaPerch that means that we can now offer our teams a method to drag and drop parts from a repository of computer aided designs (CAD) to envision their designs before they construct them, which I really want to encourage teams to utilize to enhance every aspect of the competition.”

He continued, “For SeaGlide, we created a couple new events that most likely aren’t going away, as well as their own Arduino prototyping tool that proved itself to be rather robust. We need to refine some of this and work on how we present it to teams, but like all of our programs, we don’t waste feedback. We’re always working to make changes and improvements."

The virtual competitions received positive feedback from educators as they realized the value of hosting these events for not only their students, but for themselves as well.

“I thought it was great! Great activities while the presentations went on … Excellent guest speakers,” said Gloria Weber from Philadelphia Robotics Coalition.

“Even being virtual, the competition brought back some sense of normalcy in a time that is certainly nowhere near normal,” added Kevin Kozack from Haddonfield Middle School. “I can't tell you how much this competition means to so many of my team members.”

“Hosting a virtual engineering technology and science competition is not only a challenge, but it’s also really engaging, rewarding and stimulating,” added Dr. Varnum.

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,700 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.

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