Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Unsinkable Girl Scouts

This post was written by guest blogger Jonée Lillard.

What happens when you give six teenage girls three months to build an underwater robot?

Amazing things…

Such is the story of Unsinkable Girl Scouts, the Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast’s first ever ROV (remotely operated vehicle) team, of which I was a member in early 2016. Participating on the team and in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) ROV competition was enjoyable and rewarding, and an invaluable opportunity to learn about engineering, professionalism and teamwork.

Mary, Peighton, Elizabeth, Kaylee, Jonée and Nancy
An ROV is a remotely controlled aquatic robot, connected by a tether to a control mechanism on the surface. ROVs are used for various underwater tasks too dangerous for humans to perform. The MATE Center is an organization dedicated to advancing ocean science, including marine robotics education. In the premise of the competition, our team was a company with the ROV as its product, so our assignment involved not only building and operating the ROV to perform underwater “demonstration” tasks but also making a marketing display board and presenting our company and product to a panel of MATE representatives and engineers.

During a preliminary workshop at Nauticus, we experienced firsthand what the competition would involve. We experimented with different ROV designs in their test pool and decided that a cubic model would work best for our group. At subsequent meetings, we assembled the control box from a kit purchased from MATE, replicated the props to be used in the competition, such as corals and CubeSats, and constructed the ROV’s frame from PVC pipe after determining appropriate dimensions that would fit into a compact 40-centimeter circle. The practice props were helpful in designing the ROV, as we tailored the retrieval tool to fit them, and in testing, which allowed us to improve the design, including adjusting buoyancy and replacing and reinforcing motor mounts.

Besides learning practical skills such as soldering and drilling, we also gained experience in delegating and communication. We chose our positions in the “company” based on our skills, from CEO (Mary), Operations Manager (Peighton), CFO (Kaylee), R&D Engineer (Elizabeth), Marketing Manager (Nancy), and Safety Manager (Jonée) in the first few meetings to ROV operators and tether handlers during testing.

The regional competition at Old Dominion University on April 30 was the crowning moment of our experience. Seeing the product of our efforts perform exactly as it was designed and presenting it to the judges was immensely rewarding. We won the competition-wide award for Best Team Spirit and placed second overall in the Scout (beginner) level.

The assistance of our engineering mentor, Mr. Lee Scarbrow, was invaluable throughout the process: he helped us enormously with the design, taught us technical skills, and allowed us to use his backyard pool for testing. Many thanks also to Mrs. Donna Farnham, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast program event specialist, for helping us with supplies and venues; Mrs. Emily Balke, for motivating and encouraging us every step of the way; Ms. Susie Hill and Nauticus, for their invaluable help and for encouraging us to begin the team; the American Society of Engineers, for the funding to make this program possible; and the Girl Scout Council of Colonial Coast for their support.

Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors who would like to be a member of the 2017 ROV team can contact