US Navy inspires NZ underwater AquaBots programme

Issue: Volume 98, Number 8

Posted: 20 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9uBX

Year 5–13 students are developing innovative science and technology capabilities as they compete in a US Navy-designed initiative to build underwater ‘aquabots’.

Students all over the country are participating in New Zealand’s first underwater robotics programme.

NZ AquaBots supplies interested groups of young people with the materials required to create a remotely operated underwater vehicle. The vehicles are then tested by teams in regional AquaBots competitions, with the winning teams continuing to the national final held at the Richmond Aquatic Centre in Nelson during November each year.

The NZ AquaBots initiative was devised by the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research and is delivered in New Zealand by the ‘Ministry of Inspiration’, a network of local educators, with support from various organisations and education centres.

Robotics experts around the country have taken notice, with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) mentoring local teams and hosting Auckland’s regional AquaBots competition at RNZAF Base Auckland.

Real-life skills

Auckland AquaBots competition organiser Gareth Bodle, Principal of Belvedere Law, says that the initiative offers an excellent opportunity for young people to develop real-life skills.

“There’s the practical construction, and from a competition point of view there’s also being organised and working as a team,” he says.

“The other side of it is that they have to do particular challenges. For example, this year the American course is designed around the Thai cave rescue where those kids were trapped in a cave. The aquabot has to open a vault door, go through hoops, collect miniature canisters and take them to another staging point.”

The AquaBots competition comprises an underwater obstacle course through which students must pilot their robots, as well as an oral presentation delivered to judges. Other pool events make up the rest of the competition and vary from year to year. 

Previous challenges have included using the teams’ aquabots to collect invasive species, play Connect Four, and collect kaimoana (seafood).

“The thing about these challenges,” says Gareth, “is that you’re now asking the kids to design and innovate to complete certain engineering tasks, whether it’s lifting, attaching or steering, so they have to invent all this stuff themselves. They have to develop problem-solving and design-development skills.”

Winners to compete in US

Teams from Hobsonville Primary School and Hobsonville Point Secondary School placed first in their respective divisions at the national final of the AquaBots competition in 2018, after being mentored by RNZAF Base Auckland’s Avionics Squadron. They will travel to Washington DC on June 1 to compete at the 2019 International SeaPerch Challenge, the global equivalent of the NZ AquaBots initiative.

Regional contact information and competition dates

Auckland: – competition date Term 4 Week 2 (TBA)

Rotorua: – competition date 22 September

Masterton: – competition date TBA

Christchurch: Uai Liu at – competition date TBA

Nelson-National Competition:

The 2019 competition theme is ‘Journey Across the Pacific’. Updated rules and information will be available soon.

For more information on NZ AquaBots(external link).

Christchurch hosts 2019 Competition

Te Waka Unua School STEAM Facilitator Uai Liu is organising Christchurch’s first regional competition in 2019. He believes that by allowing children to see themselves as scientists, the competition builds innovative science and technology capabilities.

“The hope is that once we have that competition in Christchurch, we can start using NZ AquaBots as a way to exhibit these capabilities,” he says.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:51 am, 20 May 2019

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