Seattle Teens Dive Into Underwater Robotics Competition

By Zahra Farah
The Seattle Times.

SEATTLE

In the McConnaughey house, on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, a robot sits as a centerpiece on the dining-room table.

Three teenage girls question whether their creation will be ready for its next challenge. Snacking on guacamole and chips, Hannah, Haley and Annika begin to pull apart their finished machine.

Something doesn’t feel right.

Haley McConnaughey, 14, explains the trigonometry she did to figure out the dimensions for the blades on the robot’s propellers. Older sister Hannah quickly wipes away some guacamole that escaped onto the machine.

The team asks themselves again: Can their underwater robot save a 200-pound diver trapped at sea?

That as the task at hand as they were preparing to leave for the upcoming Black Sea International ROV Competition and Exhibition in Romania, the largest underwater robotics competition in Europe.

Teams will compete to see whose robot can rescue an underwater mannequin diver and defuse an underwater mine. The top three will be taken out to a real shipwreck, where their robots must retrieve hidden treasure.

“The fact I get to do this before I have my driver’s license is crazy,” said Hannah, 17, who also was to deliver the keynote address at the competition.

The only U.S. team in the competition, they will face high-school and collegiate underwater robotic teams from Egypt, India, Iran, Poland, Russia and Romania.

“We went from middle-schoolers to representatives of the United States,” said Haley.

“Its incredible how much your life can change in three months,” said Annika Hustard, who recently joined the team and who competed in her first robotics competition in May. The competition in Romania ends on Aug. 20.

The girls, who say they get bored easily and love to solve problems, have spent their summer working 12- to 14-hour days on their robot.

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