Underwater robotics contest sets stage for ‘coopetition’

Rick Wagner • Apr 30, 2019 at 3:16 PM

KINGSPORT — I always thought the term “coopetition” was a little stilted, more so than “frenemies.”

But this past Saturday, I saw firsthand what a combination of cooperation and competition looks like. It’s called underwater robotics.

In most extra-curricular and co-curricular activities in local schools, you can be “friends” and “enemies” with the opposing team, at least after the game is over. But the inaugural Appalachian Highlands MATE ROV Competition went beyond that because the teams cooperated despite being in the middle of a competition. (MATE stands for marine advanced technology education, while ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle.) They made some friends along the way, too.

Dennis Courtney, executive director of STREAMWORKS Powered by Eastman in Education, said this event drew about 120 competitors and more than 300 spectators. Jill Zande, president and executive director of Montery, Calif.-based MATE Inspiration for Innovation, and Courtney said the international competition June 20-22 is expected to draw about 1,500 people and have teams from more than 20 countries. Attendance at the events is free.


When the Science Hill High School’s first-year team, the Sea Toppers, blew a 5-amp fuse required for one of its underwater dives in the Ranger Class, Kingsport’s Sevier Middle team S.A.N.S. from the Navigator Class gave Science Hill a spare fuse. (A Sea Topper may have broken the land speed record for a sprint carrying a fuse.) The spirit of robotics competitions, underwater or otherwise, is collaboration and competition through STEM: science, technology, education and math.

“We’re just trying to figure out the game,” Science Hill team Chief Financial Officer Jordan Ayen said. When asked who the team’s big rival was this year, Chief Operating Officer Carmen Palileo said, “The only rivals are the problems.” Those involved practical issues of addressing issues like those TVA uses to address leaks in Boone Dam. 

Sevier’s team wasn’t the only one to help out first-time competitor Science Hill. The D-B EXCEL team R-Mateys, which won one of two slots in the international competition in June, recently invited the Science Hill team to the STEM Gym that STREAMWORKS operates in Kingsport.

“That’s what we need is more collaboration,” David Golden, senior vice president for Eastman Chemical Co., which helped sponsor the Appalachian Highlands competition, said at the event Saturday. “This is an example of two cross-town rivals coming together.”

The event also let some individual team members shine. Sevier sixth-grader Tomidylan Klepper built his team’s controller.

“A sixth-grader built the entire controller box. He did all the soldering and everything,” co-coach and eighth-grade science teacher Paul Blair said.

Tomilylan said, “The hardest part was the wires.”

Greensboro, N.C.-based Seal Robotics, an independent team not associated with a school, won the other slot in the international competition from the Ranger class. So if you want to see Seal Robotics, R-Mateys and more than 18 other teams in some international underwater coopetition, just head out to the Aquatic Center June 20-22.

QUIZ: What part did Science Hill’s robotics team get from Seiver Middle’s team?

BONUS QUESTION: Where is MATE based? 




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