Students in the engineering club of Early College East in Havelock designed and built a device to explore the underwater world.
And because of that, they’ll get to explore another part of the world above the water.
The group of students won first place in a national engineering competition and will be heading to Germany in April to show their project at the world’s largest industrial fair.
The six students traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., for the Phoenix Contact Nanoline Competition on Feb. 16 and took first place. This is the third year they have been in the prestigious competition and the first time they came home with the top prize. They placed third last year.
The students had spent the past seven months designing and constructing a remote operating vehicle they called Delian One.
"It is an underwater robot primarily for underwater exploration," said Thomas Munday, team leader and head designer. "We really wanted to be able to explore the water since we lived by the coast."
Roughly the size of a milk crate, the Delian One is made of polycarbonate tubing, an aluminum frame and various other parts to make it buoyancy neutral. It is joined by a 25-foot tether that controls the ROV’s activity in the water as well as the device’s camera functions.
"Communication was a big part of it," said Alex Messmer, a co-designer and builder on the group’s electronics team. "Communication ties everything we were doing together."
Student Ben Fisher worked on programming, wiring and other parts of the device.
"I think that my favorite part was when I saw each part and each function coming together to make the ROV," he said. "I saw it as like a person, how the thrusters made it move and the cameras made it see."
Claudia Yllanes, who worked on the electrical side and assembly, said that she enjoyed seeing the project go from initial design plans to a real device.
"Actually seeing all of our planning become a physical, tangible item, at first it was like a cool idea and then we started seeing it doing things at that point," she said. "It was like, ‘Oh, this actually works.’ There were never any freak-out points where it wasn’t going to work at all."
The group had meetings on Tuesdays and Fridays each week and then added lunch meetings to work out the bugs of the ROV.
Ashley Mullikin, on the mechanical team, did research on ROVs and actually came up with the idea of having the craft be one that would operate under the water.
"Especially since we live so near the water here in Eastern North Carolina, and since most of the surface of the Earth is water and 90 percent of it isn’t explored, I thought it would be something that people could understand why we thought it would be the best idea," she said.
The team took the vehicle to Munday’s pool initially to test and then to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
And then came the competition, which ended with the announcement that they had won.
"It was definitely surreal," Mullikin said. "We were all like dazed with happiness."
Aaron Nasser did the buoyancy and balance calculations as part of the mechanical team.
"That moment is indescribable," he said of winning. "You’re so happy that you can’t explain it. That’s the best way to explain it. You can’t explain it."
Patrizia Mombille, who was on the electrical team and worked on programming and wiring, was unable to venture to the competition with the other six team members.
"I felt like I should be there but I couldn’t. It was just so terrible," she said.
Mombille saw a picture on her phone that indicated the team had won the competition.
"I was just ecstatic," she said. "My jaw literally dropped."
Mombille helped named the craft, which is after the Delian League, an alliance of Greek states that fought against the Persians nearly 2,500 years ago.
"Every student had a hand in this from the design to the frame," said John Ebright, school advisor and engineering teacher. "This is outside the class, but having a complex project like this requires a lot of time and hopefully in the future we can get projects like this that are in the class where they are working not just for a week on a project but multiple weeks or a couple months and then they’re able to test this in a real-world situation."
All of the students involved in the project had to fill out applications and go through an interview process to be accepted, Ebright said.
"If they don’t become engineers, they can still take something away from this," he said.
The students, ages 14 to 17, will be in Germany for the Hanover Fair from April 8 to 12. About 6,000 people are expected to go by the school’s booth.