Sacramento’s Jesuit High robotics team wins international title for second year in a row

Jesuit High School’s robotics team recently bested universities from around the world for the second year in a row in a competition that required students to operate a robot underwater.

The 20 high-schoolers competed against 29 teams June 26-28 at the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s International Remotely Operated Vehicle competition. Jesuit’s competition consisted mostly of teams from universities and community colleges, with the exception of two other high schools and one 4-H club.

Each team was evaluated on the construction, design and performance of its remotely operated vehicle, or ROV; the members’ capability to communicate what they learned; and how they used their knowledge in developing their vehicle, said Caroline Brown, media relations manager for the MATE center.

Jesuit student media director Ben Byers, 17, of Carmichael said he feels “a great feeling of gratification” about the big win, as the Jesuit robotics team put hundreds of hours into working on Predator, the sleek, bright yellow $7,300 underwater robot.

“We’ve been working on this on every single Saturday since the beginning of the school year,” said Byers, who is also the team’s head of control system for electronics and a pilot.

The competition consists of several different parts: the mission, a technical report, a poster and a safety inspection, Brown said. Volunteer judges hail from companies and organizations with considerable expertise, including Oceaneering, NASA, Boeing, Chrysler, General Motors and the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute.

This year, the ROVs were put in simulated underwater shipwrecks 12 to 15 feet deep, she said. They had 15 minutes to collect the needed samples, identify the shipwreck, make an inventory of invasive species and remove trash. The competitors are not allowed to look in the pool and have to maneuver through what they see through the robot’s camera.

The underwater course was changed at short notice to simulate how uncertain a real mission could be, Brown said.

Byers’ most memorable moment was when the team spent five hours in their hotel room replanning how to best execute the mission, which required “thinking like the ROV,” he said.

Jesuit robotics composed a 25-page technical report, which explains the science of the underwater shipwreck and a detailed explanation of the ROV. The report and the poster display was presented to the industry-representing judges during the engineering evaluation.

Team leader Alex Aprea, 17, of Carmichael was awarded Engineering MVP at the competition, Brown said. The award is presented to students who excelled during their team’s engineering evaluation, where they have to answer inquiries from judges who represent the industry.

“For myself, it was nice to know that it was a very successful presentation,” Aprea said. “I think it was a testament that the judges felt that I did a good job on answering questions on my own and was fluid in handing questions off when it’s appropriate.”

Jesuit High also won the “Best Poster” competition, which presented the competition’s challenge and the team’s solution to the public. The poster will later be published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Ocean Technology magazine. The team’s 2012 poster was also presented in the publication.

The local high school engineering team placed first in last year’s competition and third in 2012.