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Murray Journal

Fifth-Grade Cousins To Compete at National Underwater Robotics Contest

Apr 10, 2015 12:42PM ● By Julie Slama

Cousins Emma Robison and Mary Seeley, both Murray fifth graders, won the regional SeaPerch underwater robotics competition and will compete at the national contest in late May. Photo courtesy of Amber Robison

Fifth-grade cousins Emma Robison and Mary Seeley recently teamed to win the regional SeaPerch underwater robotics competition and will compete at the national contest in late May.  It was the first time the cousins have learned about robotics.

Emma, who attends Horizon Elementary, and Mary, who is at Grant Elementary, spent two hours every Saturday for the past three months as team H2O Amigas, learning how to build and maneuver a waterproof robot.  The result: the H2O Amigas won the March 18 regional elementary and middle school contest by earning 856 points out of 1,000, more than 200 points ahead of the closest competitors.  

At the SeaPerch Challenge, the girls demonstrated the abilities of the robot and gave an oral presentation with a poster display.  The judges also looked for innovative robot design.

The duo was presented with a trophy, which they’ll rotate between their houses every six months, along with the robot.

“It was the first time I have built a robot,” Mary said.  “I liked driving it underwater.  It’s easy to maneuver, like playing video games.”

During the 10-minute competition, Emma, who managed the tether cord, put the robot in the water, where Mary then piloted it through several challenges, including opening a mock airplane door to retrieve a black box.  The duo also had to hook several rings, which they did by adding a coat hanger hook to their robot.

“We had to design the robot so it would be waterproof and be able to complete the challenges,” Emma said.  “When it had the wrong buoyancy, we cut swim noodles and wrapped it around the PCV pipe, which was just the right combination.  We even ran into a snag the day before when the propeller got broke after getting caught in my cousin’s hair, so we had to fix that.  We spent a lot of time together, which was fun since we’re cousins, but we also learned how to work together, which we hadn’t done before.”

The girls had the help of their mentors, Mary’s dad, Michael Seeley, and their grandfather, John Robison, who helped them learn about soldering, electrical switches and drilling holes in PVC pipes. 

The SeaPerch Program, which is named after a World War II submarine, is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and managed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation.  The program provides students with the hands-on opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science and mathematics, while building an underwater remotely-operated vehicle. Throughout the project, students learned how to work with tools, designed and built engineering concepts using technical applications, and completed the project by using problem solving and teamwork skills. 

Some of the concepts students learn are ship and submarine design, buoyancy and displacement, propulsion, soldering, vectors, electrical circuits and switches, ergonomics, waterproofing, depth measurement, biological sampling, and basic physics of motion. 

“If you would have asked these girls about propulsion, buoyancy, electrical circuits, hydro-pressure or even soldering back in January, they would have had no idea of the concepts,” Emma’s mother, Amber Robison, said.  

Amber Robison first learned about the program when she read an article about SeaPerch, then discovered Brigham Young University’s Splash Lab, who helped the team get started.  From there, she ordered the SeaPerch kits, which consisted of low-cost, easily-accessible parts.

However, before the fifth national contest, which will be held May 29-30 at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, the two girls will be practicing their oral presentation with local attorney James Dunkelberger, who volunteered to coach the girls, and testing their robot’s ability to complete the national challenges at Murray’s Park Centre pool.

“There’s some tricky parts at the national competition where we’ll have to go through hoops forward, then again backwards,” Mary said.

They also will need to raise about $3,800 to attend the national contest and have established the website,, to help with the fundraising.

During the regional contest, Emma said they were able to follow a scoreboard that showed the progress of other teams during the competition, including another top-finishing Murray team, the Little Robotics, which consisted of Emma’s third-grade brother, Seth, and their eight-year-old cousin, Kate Reading.  

“I always wanted to make a robot, but what I learned was not just about making it, but that it takes a lot of practice to make it work right,” Kate said.  “I learned that if we try our best, it’s as good as winning.”