Water robots make a splash at Whidbey Island Fair

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Curiosity flew through space and landed on Mars in the beginning of August. Now exploring the surface of the Red Planet, the remotely operated vehicle sends pictures of an unfamiliar and desolate landscape back to scientists eagerly awaiting each image on Earth.

On the surface of our own planet, curiosity has propelled kids from South Whidbey’s Remotely Operated Vehicle team, Atlantis, Inc. to build smaller remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that can “fly” underwater.

Attendees of this year’s Whidbey Island Fair, formerly known as the Island County Fair, will be able to experience technology in action as they try their hand at driving these mini-ROVs in a 90-gallon tank.

Fairgoers will be able to test their skills at piloting a Nerf ball-size aquatic robot to complete a mission such as navigating an obstacle course or picking up a metal item using magnets.

A much larger aquatic robot built by the team members also will be on display, but not in operation at the fair. Team members, who placed 8th at a regional marine ROV competition in May, will be on hand to answer questions.

Haley McConnaughey, at age 12 the youngest team member, said her team enjoys teaching the public about this incredible technology and she believes that people will enjoy this new addition to the fair.

“When you see the ‘Titanic’ movie, you see the ROV that’s really big and you think that it must be hard to control,” McConnaughey said.

But according to this budding engineer, she said the handling is easy – once you learn how to operate the steering and understand how the propellers push.

Haley said that with all of the attention that the Mars Rover has been receiving in the media, the timing for this new activity at the fair couldn’t be better.

“It’s amazing timing,” Haley said. “People are more interested in robots and more aware of them because of the Rover.”

Fair Arts and Crafts Supervisor Mary Ann Mansfield agrees. She said she is really excited about the aquatic robot hands-on activity because it is such a current topic and it gets young people involved and engaged.

In addition to space exploration and rediscovering the Titanic, ROVs can be used in other situations in which using a person would be dangerous or potentially fatal such as diffusing bombs or fixing environmental disasters.

On the other end of the hazard spectrum, robots can be used for such mundane tasks as vacuuming a floor, said team mentor Ashley McConnaughey, who is mom to Haley and her sister Hannah, who also is a member of the team.

The project encourages the kids to use their imaginations, she said.

“The possibilities are everywhere,” she said.

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