Greenport students build a submersible robot

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02/16/2013 12:00 PM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Greenport High School students Chris Sponza (left) and Chris Rabig with the submersible robot they built.

There’s an underwater robot quietly lurking around the Greenport School.

Through a remote control, the three-motor machine maneuvers in all directions and could be used for surveillance or to repair other machines remotely.

The final functions of the submarine-like device won’t be decided by professional scientists, however. Two Greenport High School juniors, Chris Rabig and Chris Sponza, have been tasked with creating a waterproof robot with the support of the school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics program, known as STEM, and the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

“The soldering was a little difficult, but it wasn’t too complicated to put together,” Chris Rabig said as the submerged machine responded to his commands.

“We decided to use PVC pipes and added a weight to balance it,” Chris Sponza added.

Eventually, the students will paint the machine “Porter purple,” the school’s color, and are thinking about adding a waterproof camera.

The students worked on the project for eight weeks after the school received a $650 grant from the Office of Naval Research. The grant package included building materials and a tool kit.

Maj. William Grigonis, the senior naval science instructor for the Southold-Mattituck-Greenport NJROTC, said the districts are all in the process of completing their projects and will compete against each other later this year.

“What’s nice about the three schools is there’s the camaraderie, then there’s the competition,” Maj. Grigonis said. “When people think ROTC they think it’s a military program, but it’s not. ROTC is a citizenship development program and what we try to do here is prepare kids for college or the next level of where they’re going.”

Greenport High School principal Leonard Skuggevik said he was amazed by how smoothly the students’ machine maneuvers under water and believes the experience will give them a head start when they take physics next year.

“What happens if you put it in salt water?” he asked the students.

“It floats more,” they answered.

In addition to their naval project, the two students are part of the Air Force’s CyberPatriot Team. Both will try to uncover vulnerabilities in an Air Force’s computer system and hack into it.

Mr. Skuggevik said these types of projects enhance the school’s STEM program because students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to solve a problem on their own.

“It definitely takes science to the next level,” the principal said. “Once they become interested, they’ll start to use their imaginations to figure out what else they can do.”

Maj. Grigonis said his goal is to “bring what they’re teaching upstairs to the ROTC world.”

“There’s more than just the classroom,” he said. “A kid can learn more building this than they’ll ever learn just looking at a slide show or reading a book.”

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