Central Kitsap students build robots for ROV program

Central Kitsap High School junior Drew Blaisdell lets out some slack in the line while Dan Wimmer operates the controls for their remotely operated vehicle at the Olympic Aquatic Center pool Monday. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Central Kitsap High School junior Drew Blaisdell lets out some slack in the line while Dan Wimmer operates the controls for their remotely operated vehicle at the Olympic Aquatic Center pool Monday.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

Central Kitsap High School (CKHS) senior Briana Brenner, who graduated Thursday night, and junior James Young explored a plane's wreckage Monday at the bottom of the Olympic Aquatic Center pool.

Brenner and Young are just two of the 160 Central Kitsap School District (CKSD) students who participated in the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) program for the first time this year.

“It was a lot of fun. I like that we got to apply things we learned in class to real stuff,” Brenner said.

CKHS juniors and seniors spent the past three weeks making their ROVs out of PVC pipe, electrical tape, film canisters and other items. The students learned how to solder wires and PVC pipe as well as waterproof engines.

“I had no idea you could make (an ROV) out of PVC pipe,” Young said. “I can put on my résumé that I built something like this.”

The students had their final test Monday at the pool. Each group of two used its ROV to complete a series of underwater tasks.

“It’s so engaging,” CKSD Career and Technical Education Director Katharine Gleysteen said. “It’s great to be here at the end.”

The Naval Undersea Museum Foundation along with Underwater Admiralty Services and other organizations started the ROV program in 2005 with 100 Bainbridge High School students. The program now boasts more than 500 student participants from Bainbridge, North Kitsap and Central Kitsap schools.

“We’re doubling every year and we’ll continue to do that until we’ve saturated the area. Our dream is to expand as far north as Port Angeles,” said Paul Fukuhara, ROV program manager with Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport. “We want everyone to be involved.”

Fukuhara said the program is popular on the East Coast, but NUWC Keyport is the first to bring it to classrooms on the West Coast. He added that the goal of the program is to raise awareness and interest in science, technology and math and some students have told him they now want to major in a science field at college because of the ROV program.

“It’s terrific. You know the key thing is all the students learn something from the class,” he said.

CKHS physics teacher Paul Birkenfeld said the ROV program has been wonderful for him and his students. Fukuhara and volunteers from NUWC Keyport and other organizations spent time in the classroom helping the students build their ROVs and Birkenfeld said their hard work and dedication to the program proved successful.

“Just tying the class concepts to real world opportunities was wonderful,” Birkenfeld said. “It was rewarding to see them succeed. It’s been an incredible experience for my kids and myself.”

Gleysteen said CKSD will expand the ROV program to more secondary schools next year to give younger students the opportunity to participate.

“It’s truly an amazing project and every teacher involved has the exact same thing to say about it — it’s the best thing they’ve ever done,” she said. “We’re so appreciative of Keyport for offering this program.”

During Monday’s pool activity, CKHS students, with the guidance and supervision of teachers and various program volunteers, ran their ROVs through an underwater obstacle course and picked up rings on the bottom of the pool using only their ROVs.

“It took me two minutes to pick up a ring,” Brenner said. “It was kind of difficult at first.”

Young said he first thought the ROV project would not be interesting, but the more he got involved, the more he liked it.

“When I first heard about it I thought it was going to be really dumb, but it was really cool and I hope I can do it again,” Young said.

Both Brenner and Young said the project was a lot of trial and error in trying to create their ROV.

“They learn how to repair things. They help each other,” Fukuhara said. “It’s the softer skills they learn that aren’t really taught.”

Brenner and Young’s ROV was successful during Monday’s test and Young said he’s now ready to take on other students.

“I would actually like to see a competition between the schools and the winner wins a golden ROV or something,” he said with a smile.

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