Underwater robotics field trip for Shelburne students

Shelburne Community School eighth graders Annabel Dilley and Audrey Olson construct an underwater robot as part of Project Sea Perch.
Shelburne Community School eighth graders Annabel Dilley and Audrey Olson construct an underwater robot as part of Project Sea Perch.

Eight Shelburne Community School students constructed underwater robots for their 8th grade culminating project named Sea Perch.

Robots hit the water to finalize their neutral buoyancy at the YMCA in Burlington on Jan. 26. The machines were piloted through a small obstacle course in the pool. 

The project was led by Shelburne Community School Facility Manager David Kelly as an opportunity for students to learn a completely new set of skills using PVC pipe construction, electrical work and the waterproofing of electrical components.

“It was definitely a stretch they are proud of,” said Allan Miller, co-principal of Shelburne Community School, of the weeks of labor.

Students Annabel Dilley and Audrey Olson said they were the only girls in their class to construct robots. “It was dangerous work at times,” Dilley said. “We had to put wax around the motors and the wax would burn, and we had to do some soldering of wires.”

Kelly said a plastic pipe frame with three motors, called thrusters, makes up the robot. There were a set of elements students needed to complete, like read and interpret instructions, and use tools they have never used. They also needed to understand basic wiring diagrams and solder connections.

The most inspiring part of Sea Perch for Kelly was the excitement when a task was completed successfully. “Nice to see their smiles and positive energy,” he said. “Any time a new skill is learned, and a sense of knowing new things can be accomplished when effort is applied, is a great connection for a person to make.”

Dilley said Mr. Kelly was the highlight of the robotics class. “He was awesome, a joy to be around, and we were always excited to see Dave.”

After experiencing project Sea Perch, Dilley is looking forward to joining the Engineering Club when she gets to CVU where her brother, Jack Dilley, 18, is now a senior in the club.

Olson said Project Sea Perch is just the first of a three-part Arts and Citizenship capstone program where students demonstrate their ability to learn new skills in creative ways. Olson and Dilley have moved out of the water and onto a stained glass project.

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