Girls and boys, start your robots.

Those may not be the exact words used to start the Cayman Islands regional qualifier for the 2020 International SeaPerch Challenge on 7 March at the Camana Bay Aquatic Centre, but girls and boys will indeed start their remotely operated vehicles — often referred to simply as "ROVs" — before putting them to the test on the bottom of the pool. Viewing the competition is free of charge and open to the public.

Last year, 24 teams from eight schools across the Cayman Islands competed in the challenge that required the ROVs to race through an underwater obstacle course that tested high-speed maneuverability and then complete a specific task-oriented mission course. This year, in addition to the timed obstacle course, the mission course will require a "waterway clean-up" that entails disarming an active naval mine, opening and closing an underwater disposal vault, and collecting and disposing of various floating and sunken debris.

The Cayman Islands SeaPerch Challenge is presented by Dart Minds Inspired in collaboration with Maples Group, Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association and London & Amsterdam. Dart Senior Manager Education Programmes Glenda McTaggart said the SeaPerch Challenge has become a highly anticipated part of local schools' science, technology, engineering and mathematics — better known as STEM — learning activities. 

“The number of teams competing in the Cayman Islands SeaPerch Challenge has quadrupled since its first year in 2016, when only six teams entered," she said. “The increase in participation, as well as the sophistication of the ROVs built by the teams, demonstrates the elevated STEM capabilities of Cayman’s students."

The two winning teams of each division — middle school and high school — will represent the Cayman Islands at the International SeaPerch Challenge, which will be held 30-31 May at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

Defeating the defending Cayman Islands SeaPerch Challenge schools in each division will be a tough task. A team from John Gray High School has won the middle school division for the past four years, with the school's team called "The Aqua Lasers" having won the past three years. In the high school division, the Layman E. Scott High School "Brac Bots" have come in first place the past two years.

In addition to vying for entry in the international finals, the teams also compete for a variety of other awards such as the Innovation Award, the Rookie Award and the Sportsmanship Award. There's also a Teacher Award, which last year was shared by St. Ignatius Catholic School teachers Von Ryan Abrantes and James McGill, who together entered eight teams from their school.
McTaggart noted that many schools have adopted the SeaPerch Challenge as part of their classroom and extracurricular activities.

"This gives the students multiple opportunities to learn and apply STEM concepts," she said. "The goal of Minds Inspired is to excite and engage Cayman’s students — getting them involved with STEM subjects and opening their eyes to the many careers that are STEM-based.”


This article appears in print in the February 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.