D-B EXCEL, North Carolina teams head to June international underwater robotics competition

Rick Wagner • Apr 28, 2019 at 2:00 PM

KINGSPORT — An underwater robotics team from North Carolina called Seal Robotics and the homegrown D-B EXCEL R-Mateys will advance to an international competition coming to Kingsport in June as the result of a regional competition Saturday.

D-B EXCEL, despite controller trouble, and the Greenesboro, N.C., team took the top honors in the Ranger class at the Appalachian Highlands MATE ROV Competition held at the Kingsport Aquatic Center.  MATE stands for marine advanced technology education, while ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle, i.e. an underwater robot.

The regional competition, one of 36 across the world, was presented by STREAMWORKS Powered by Eastman in Education. Event sponsors were the Eastman Foundation; Good for Good; BAE Systems; NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership; Milligan College; KOSBE, the Kingsport Office of Small Business Entrepreneurship, the Small Business Connection; Silgan Plastic Food Container; and Zion Marine Underwater Everything.

The 18th annual MATE International ROV competition will be June 20-22 at the Aquatic Center. It will mark the first international MATE competition in Tennessee, although the Aquarium in Chattanooga plans to start a second regional underwater robotics competition.

“We never know what problems would happen on competition day,” said D-B EXCEL R-Mateys coach Sara Leinkuhler, a digital arts teacher, while coach Erica Gardner, a math teacher, said: “Our pilot had to adapt to driving with four switches” instead of a failed controller. 

In the Ranger Class, mostly high schools, the second-year R-Mateys won the Marketing Award, the D-B H2O team of Dobyns-Bennett High School won the Entrepreneurship Award; the Dasyatis, a team of various schools from Martinsville, Va., won the Engineering Award; Seal Robotics, an independent team not associated with any schools, won the Mission Award; the first-year Sea Toppers of Science Hill won the Judge’s Award and the R-Mateys won the Professor’s Award. Also competing was the Trobots of Soddy Daisy, Tenn.

The last award provides $500 in cash to be used toward the 2020 competition, and it is based on a three-minute video and 500-word essay on how the team promoted STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

In the Navigator Class, mostly middle schools, Amanzi Trojans of Sparta Elementary School in Alleghany County, N.C., won the Champions Award.

In other Navigator results, the Seabirds of Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee and Holston Middle School won the Marketing Award; Team Nessie of Central High School in Wise County won the Entrepreneurship Award; Novanatar of Robinson Middle School captured the Engineering Award; and Amanzi of North Carolina won the Mission Award as well as the Professor’s Award with the $500. Also competing was S.A.N.S from Sevier Middle School.

Lee County, Va., students and teachers also attended with the goal of participating next year. The Wise County team hopes to continue participating, too, coach and Central teacher Pam Baker said.