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Mission to Outer Space: ROV design comp sees pupils tackle intergalactic tasks


Tackling the murky reaches of an ocean on one of Jupiter’s moons is just one of the missions school pupils from across Scotland will be tackling as part of this year’s MATE Scotland ROV Challenge.

ROV tankThe Scottish leg of the challenge, co-ordinated and hosted by Robert Gordon University (RGU), will see 12 schools put underwater robots they have designed and built to the test on Thursday, March 31 at RGU’s Sir Ian Wood Building.

The major STEM initiative aims to inspire future engineers through hands-on experience of designing remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) used underwater in the oil and gas, defence, oceanology and marine renewables industries.

BP North Sea has been a major sponsor of the Scottish regional competition since its launch in 2008, with Subsea UK joining the company as headline sponsor for the second year. Additional funding is provided by ROVOP and The Underwater Centre in Fort William.

The RGU event is one of 24 regional heats held around the world by the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Centre in California and will see the winning school team travel to compete in this year’s international final which will be held at the NASA Johnson Space Centre's Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, Texas in June. 

RGU engineering lecturer and competition co-ordinator, Graeme Dunbar, said: “We are very much looking forward to this year’s competition and can’t wait to see how the students have responded to the brief set out by MATE. The event is always a huge amount of fun and we are extremely grateful to all of our sponsors for their continued support.”

Tim Smith, Vice President Communications & External Affairs for BP North Sea, said: “The ROV design competition has become a real highlight in the engineering calendar and BP is delighted to once again support RGU with this excellent initiative. The MATE ROV challenge offers pupils a fantastic opportunity to find out more about the oil and gas industry and supports BP’s strategy to develop capability and talent in the STEM subjects.”

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK said: “The MATE ROV competition is a great way to inspire the next generation and expose them to the subsea industry through realistic, hands-on experience. Despite the current challenges, we must take a long term approach to skills and work hard to engage with those who will drive our sector forward in years to come.

“If we don’t continue to attract, train and develop young people, we will not have the talent required to support the future of one of the world’s most important industries.”

Steven Cullen, ROV Operations Manager at The Underwater Centre, said: “We are delighted to participate in and support the MATE ROV competition. We see the competition as an excellent medium to encourage young people, locally and internationally, to pursue the myriad of opportunities in the fields of science, technology and environmental stewardship of the world’s oceans, not only as a career but as a lifelong interest.”

Steven Gray, chief executive of ROVOP, said: “It is more important than ever to ensure we continue to teach youngsters about the oil and gas industry and show them there continues to be exciting opportunities available in the sector. We are delighted to offer our continued support to the MATE ROV competition which gives a practical insight into underwater technology. 

“At ROVOP we invest in future talent and like to encourage interest in this fascinating high technology which is also a huge contributor to the economy.  We offer work experience programmes and apprenticeships, so the competition is a great fit with our company.”

With NASA and Oceaneering Space Systems (OSS) looking to make use of ROVs which can operate in the harsh environments of both the deep ocean and outer space, this year’s missions are scenarios inspired by inner and outer space.

These include operating in the ocean on Europa under its ice sheet to collect data and deploy instrumentation; finding and recovering critical equipment that sank in the Gulf of Mexico after a recent series of testing programs; photographing and collecting samples of deep water corals to assess their health post Deepwater Horizon oil spill; and preparing a wellhead for decommission and conversion into an artificial reef. 

To date, Scottish MATE ROV has worked with 536 pupils from 34 schools over the past nine years, with Peterhead Academy winning the 2015 competition.

Release by

Jenny Rush

Communications Officer | Design and Technology