Robotics Lab Engages Students & Underwater Curiosities 

Ten years ago, in 2009, PA Sea Grant’s Maritime Education Specialist, David Boughton began facilitating robotic labs with students in grades 4-12. Hundreds of underwater robots have been built, and many tested out in the waters of Lake Erie.

Boughton’s course and lab work include the steps and materials needed to build an underwater robot, buoyancy testing, indoor trials at Allegheny College’s competition pool, and field-testing aboard in the waters of Lake Erie.

Allegheny College student Elisia Wright displays robot she built in hydrolabThe robots have been used by students participating in PA Sea Grant’s Shipboard Science Education Program, by teachers participating in shipboard training classes, and by scientists with the PA Fish and Boat Commission to monitor underwater aquatic habitat structures

This past year Boughton has collaborated with Allegheny College to offer a STEM Lab in the Geology building, where students are able to innovate underwater robot designs as second year students. New circuit boards from the (MATE) Marine Advanced Technical Engineering program has allowed for advanced control boxes and functional adaptations. Students are repurposing vaccum cleaner parts and other components to create new designs and functions for the robotics project.

“As a hands-on learning environment, these students become completely engaged in learning new skills such a soldering, frame innovations, electric circuits and focus on adaptions and innovations to facilitate specific tasks," said Boughton. There is no lost time. Students start and finish their robots, develop a sense of responsibility and ownership, collaborate with their classmates, think outside of the box and do things that they did not know they were able to. The development of new skills, critical thinking and confidence are by-products of the class. I am very proud of these students.” 

Boughton, Allegheny College sophomore Elisia Wright, and Allegheny College computer science professor Janyl Jumadinova were featured in the Erie Times News for the robotics work.

Wright, a dual major in computer science and environmental science took on the submersible robot project as an independent study. In May 2019, she will join Boughton and other shipboard science educators aboard Gannon University’s research vessel, the Environaut, using her robot to teach students about the water quality in Lake Erie. Stay tuned for updates!

David Boughton with hydrolab students robotics lab students and robot they builtRobotics class test out submersible unitBoughton using underwater robot during aquatic habitat surveystudents aboard research vessel on lake erie testing out submersible robot

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