NORTH BEND — For being relative newcomers to robotics, Bandon and North Bend students stepped it up during competition this weekend.

Saturday's 2015 Oregon Regional MATE ROV (Marine Advanced Technology Education Remotely Operated Vehicle) Competition in North Bend High School's pool brought out the best in the South Coast's two Scout teams: North Bend's Lightning Sharks took third and Bandon's West Coast Robotics Inc. took second.

There were four classes in the competition: Scout (beginner), Navigator (intermediate), Ranger (advanced intermediate) and Explorer (advanced).

West Coast Robotics built its robot over the course of six weeks.

"We chose Scout to focus on our strengths ... to hone in on what we're good at," said Bandon's Austin Taylor. 

Both Taylor and fellow teammate David Nevitt are looking into engineering careers after high school.

"That's why I was interested in this class," Taylor said. "This highlighted what I was thinking about doing already."

Each team only had 15 minutes to complete as many tasks as possible, making for a tense day of teams huddled together on the side of the pool, giving their controller directions every step of the way.

"In FTC (First Tech Challenge), there are multiple chances, but here, you get a one-shot deal," said Bandon robotics coach Martha Kemple.

The entire competition had a real-world feel. The teams had to collect ping pong balls (algae) from under a sheet of plastic (ice) for testing. They also had to collect O-balls (urchins) from the bottom of the pool (seafloor) and they had to "repair" a pipe (turn a valve to stop the flow of oil through the pipe, remove a section of corroded pipe, install a new section of pipe and turn the valve to restart the flow of oil).

West Coast Robotics' 15 minutes began. In the first five minutes, the team had already scooped up four O-balls and turned the valve. The team struggled to remove a piece of the pipe, not being able to hook it successfully.

They moved on to the sheet of plastic, scraping one ping pong ball out from under the sheet and bringing it to the surface. After grabbing another O-ball, the team returned to the pipe, trying to nudge it to get better access to the loop. They weren't able to pick it up, so they spent the last minute trying to scrape more ping pong balls out from under the plastic.

By the end of the 15 minutes, the judge commented to one of the parents: "That's one of the best ones I've judged."

This is Bandon's second year and North Bend's first. One of Bandon's teams earned second place in the competition, and one of North Bend's earned third place, according to Kemple. 

North Bend's scout team, the Lightning Sharks, was truly the best of the best: Teacher Katie Kennedy had a competition in her class to see who would get to be a part of the final team. All of her robotics students are juniors or younger, except for one senior, so they're already looking ahead to next year.

They'll learn from problems they encountered this year. When the camera on North Bend navigator team Oceanus' robot wasn't completely waterproofed, Kennedy had to ship a new one overnight in time for the competition.

A soldering mistake also meant the Lightning Sharks' control box was ruined, so they improvised. During the competition Saturday, the team navigated its robot by sealing the controller in a sandwich box.

While scout teams were able to navigate their robot while watching its progress in the water, navigator teams could only look at the video transmitted by the camera attached to their robot.

Oceanus put a unique twist on its hook: fitting with its Greek team name, they created a trident to hook the O-balls.

Building the robots involves a lot of trial and error, the teams agreed.

"Our first box was double this size, so we had to scale it down," said North Bend navigator teammate Jeff Gwartney. 

North Bend navigator teammate Josh Smith said robotics has given him "new insight into the field."

Bandon's navigator team, Weiland's Shipyard, engineered its own zip tie mesh, a different method to capture the ping pong balls.

Bandon navigator teammate Jack Turner said stability is extremely important, which is why his team's robot had four motors, so "each section gets an equal amount of power."

Reporter Chelsea Davis can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 239, or by email at chelsea.davis@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ChelseaLeeDavis.

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