Kids from WWU after-school robotics program honored for creativity, problem-solving and all-around MacGyvery

The Anacortes kids didn’t have the fanciest – or even best working – robot in the competition, but they certainly caught the judges’ attention.

The Salish Sea Submersible Tech team, part of Western Extended Education’s Anacortes Ocean STEM After-School Program, won special honors in the 2015 Marine Advanced Technology Education Remote Operated Vehicle Competition in Federal Way in May.

The fifth- through eighth-graders worked with Mira Lutz (’96, Biology - Marine) for 11 weeks to prepare a submersible remote operated vehicle (ROV) that could complete a series of missions.

But the Anacortes kids couldn’t catch a break on the day of the competition.

They broke one of their 3-D printed engine mounts. Then their plan to attain neutral buoyancy by flooding their ROV with water worked fine in the 5-foot practice pool, but when it reached the 10-foot bottom at the competition, there it stayed; they had not accounted for the difference in water pressure.

One kid even fell in the pool while holding a control box.

Expected from the start to design, test, and troubleshoot without instructor input, they came up with creative solutions. They re-attached their stray motor with epoxy. They added sections of a pool noodle to counteract sinking.

And Lutz’s former classmate, an adviser from South Whidbey Academy, slipped them four tampons from the machine in the ladies’ room to absorb the water inside the remote control device.

Every time something went wrong, the kids furiously improvised to solve the challenges, “which is really what engineering is all about,” says Lutz, a former Anacortes science teacher and current WWU graduate student in the Marine and Estuarine Science Program.

After such an exhausting day, the kids decided to begin their long trip back to Anacortes before the awards assembly. So they learned on their way home that they had won the Angus MacGyver Award, named for the 1980s TV action hero underdog who saves the world many times over using household items, ingenuity, and a lot of duct tape.

Their prize included a framed award and a tour of the Rolls Royce Marine facility on Harbor Island in Seattle – which they offered to share with the team from South Whidbey.

When things went wrong, Kalei Slagle, Program Assistant Tristin Munich, Robert McCarroll, Grady Anthonysz-Knutson and Matthew Lowrie collaborate to get their robot back in the water.