International ROV competition coming to Alpena

ALPENA – Two representatives from the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center were at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary building on Wednesday to officially confirm the 2014 MATE International Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition will be held in Alpena near the end of June.

“We’re really excited to come to town,” Jill Zande, associate director and competition coordinator, said. “We do our best to try to hold the internationals where they have a regional event. We started talking a few years back with (Sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray) and (Education Coordinator Sarah Waters) about holding the competition here. We like the students who participate to see other areas of the country.”

The three-day competition will bring in around 800 people to Alpena, and according to Zande, most of them plan to stay longer than three days.

“We have teams from around the world. A lot of the teams come early or stay later than the competition, giving them a chance to explore the area,” Zande said. “We are here looking at the local resources and trying to find a theme to work on for the missions.”

Matt Gardner, competition technical manager and head rules judge, has been talking with sanctuary staff and Zande about different possibilities for missions based on the Great Lakes. Zande said the hardest part isn’t deciding what to focus on for the missions, it’s figuring out how to simulate score, measure and judge the missions they come up with.

“Everyone can build the props and practice on them by themselves if they want to,” Gardner said. “We try to make them using inexpensive materials and good directions.”

Since their arrival in Alpena earlier this week, Gardner and Zande have been viewing locations to hold different aspects of the competition such as the sanctuary facilities, conference rooms and hotels to accommodate all of the teams.

“We’re going to be able to do a lot here,” Zande said. “We spent a lot of time (at the sanctuary) and seeing all the facilities here and checking out the tank, all the different conference rooms and seeing what rooms we could use for the different things that we need to have happen. We like to work with people who are problem solvers and the sanctuary staff has been very accommodating and supportive.”

The competition brings teams in from Egypt, Russia, Moscow, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Scotland.

“They all fly their flags and bring something that represents their country or their area,” Zande said. “It’s a competition, but it really is a collaboration. It’s neat to see teams getting along and talking with each other.”

Besides the teams, MATE brings in around 80 to 100 volunteers to help with the competition, and the sanctuary will be looking for volunteers to help with many different aspects of the competition.

During the weekend worth of activities, there is an Ocean Career Expo that showcases products, services and job offerings geared toward ROVs, ocean exploration and many other areas that involve the water.

“This is a great way for Alpena Community College to show off its marine technology program,” Zande said. “We like to give people an opportunity to connect to all industry partners, so the more that know about it the better.”

Since Alpena is hosting the event, Michigan gets to send one extra team to the competition as an incentive for local people to get more involved.

MATE looks for local businesses to make T-shirts for the competition, local caterers and trophy making companies to try and bring in as much business locally as possible.

“We encourage teams to get out into the community,” Zande said. “We haven’t decided on missions yet, but we have an idea of what we’d like to do.”

Teams are encouraged to form and start building the basic beginnings of the machine and how to work as a team. The theme this year will be focused around shipwrecks, science and conservation in the Great Lakes, with more of the important basic mission information available in November.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.