BIOS: Underwater Robotics Innovation Test Pool

July 23, 2021

This summer, there is a new addition to the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences [BIOS]: a 20-foot [6 meter] x 4-foot [1.2 meter] above-ground pool, dubbed the Underwater Robotics Innovation Test Pool.

The pool is serving as a testing facility this summer for underwater robots, also known as remotely operated vehicles [or ROVs], as part of BIOS’s Mid-Atlantic Robotics In Education [MARINE] program which is sponsored by RenaissanceRe.

MARINE students compete in underwater navigational challenge with their remotely operated vehicles [ROVs] centered on coral restoration, plastic pollution, and healthy waterways

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Jeff Manson, SVP – Underwriting and Global Public Sector Partnerships at RenaissanceRe, said: “For a second year, the RenaissanceRe team is pleased to sponsor the MARINE program at BIOS, helping young Bermudians develop valuable STEM skills through a focus on ocean studies and robotics.

“As a Bermuda-headquartered company, we believe that our ocean plays a vital role in the island’s economic and cultural vibrancy, and we are proud to support these students as they explore oceanographic and technological sciences. We wish the program continued success in the future.”

Each year, MARINE hosts an ROV Challenge that gives local students the opportunity to design their own ROVs, then deploy their self-built robots in underwater missions alongside their peers at the National Sports Centre.

Due to challenges presented by island-wide COVID-19 restrictions, the 2021 MARINE ROV Challenge had to be reimagined to accommodate smaller group sizes. With the blessing of lead donor RenaissanceRe, Kaitlin Noyes, BIOS director of education and community engagement and MARINE organizer, successfully pivoted and created a two-part event that combined ROV challenges and real-world ROV deployments.

Clearwater Middle School MARINE team pilot an ROV from the screen at the Innovation Test Pool

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“It was important for MARINE to continue to engage students in underwater robotics through innovation challenges in a safe manner that abided by current COVID-19 regulations for summer programming in Bermuda,” Noyes said. “We were grateful to be permitted to run these events at a smaller scale and showcase some of the engineering talent in Bermuda.”

During June and July, 54 students and teachers were able to participate in ROV Challenges at the Underwater Robotics Innovation Test Pool sponsored by RenaissanceRe. This year’s theme, ‘Excite, Educate, Empower: Students engineering solutions to global problems,’ challenged students to spear lionfish, retrieve marine debris from the sea floor, and collect coral samples, among other practical tasks.

In July, BIOS debuted ‘The Bermuda Mission: Camp ROV.’ This new event combined ROV challenges, career question and answer sessions with ROV pilots from the University of Rhode Island [URI], ROV deployment training, and the opportunity to participate in the deployment of a scientific ROV off one of BIOS’s research vessels.

A Clearwater Middle School ROV successfully retrieving a coral sample for restoration

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On July 14 and 16, twenty students from seven schools across the island participated in full eight-hour days at ‘The Bermuda Mission: Camp ROV’ on the BIOS campus. During the mornings, students spent time at the test pool competing against each other in teams of two piloting their ROVs through this year’s underwater obstacle course. This was followed by an opportunity to speak with the scientists from the Undersea Robotics and Imaging Laboratory [URIL] at URI for a career question and answer session.

Johann Becker, a master’s student in ocean engineering and Nicholas Chaloux, a master’s student in ocean engineering, are both part of the URIL, led by assistant professor Brennan Phillips. They were joined by Adriana Muñoz-Soto, a rising senior bachelor’s student in mechanical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez who is participating in a yearlong internship with Phillips.

“I was really impressed with how much the students knew,” Muñoz-Soto said. “I was very excited because that’s something I didn’t have when I was their age; I didn’t know anything about mechanical engineering until high school.”

MARINE students assist the University of Rhode Island ROV Deep Reef deployment at North Rock

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The URIL team had been in Bermuda with their compact ROV Deep Reef, which is about the size of two large suitcases, conducting research into how marine organisms behave around underwater robots.

Noyes reached out to Phillips, a longtime BIOS collaborator, to see if there might be an opportunity for the Camp ROV students to see Deep Reef in action. Phillips said he could do one better and arranged for his team to stay in Bermuda a few extra days to provide hands-on ROV training and take the students on field deployments.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to leverage some of the deep-sea technology we’ve been using for our research in Bermuda and engage with students who have a real background and interest in the subject,” Phillips said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with BIOS to inspire and educate the next generation of Bermudian scientists and engineers.”

Bermuda Institute student, Guyen, looks on as ROV Deep Reef is piloted over the shipwreck of the Pelinaion

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In the afternoons, Camp ROV students boarded a BIOS research vessel and headed out to the wreck of the Pelinaion off St. David’s and the reefs at North Rock where they learned how Deep Reef is deployed and used to investigate underwater environments.

With a large-screen tv mounted on the back of the vessel, students were able to watch Deep Reef being navigated through the eyes of the pilot. They also had the opportunity to assist with the management of the ROV’s tether—the cable that connects the robot to the electrical source on the boat—and sit with the ROV pilot in the wheelhouse.

“When asked why he got interested in robotics and ROVs, Dellwood M3 student Azari Lema, 14, said, “I wanted to learn about the sea” and thought robots would be a good way to do that. He said he wants to stay involved with robotics in the future, as did most of the other Camp ROV participants.

“Hosting a real ROV on the BIOS campus was a huge advantage to demonstrating the real-world research application of this technology in better understanding our ocean,” Noyes said.

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