ROV International competition at sanctuary

ALPENA -The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary will be hosting over 60 teams from 18 different states and 13 different countries for the 13th annual Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) International Competition Thursday through Saturday.

Teams from all around the United States, Egypt, Russia, Moscow, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and Scotland will be traveling to Alpena with their underwater robots to compete for the international title in their class.

The three-day competition is expected to bring over 800 people to Alpena, and most teams stay longer and arrive earlier than the scheduled competition dates to explore the area.

“Some teams are already in town and have been enjoying activities around the area,” sanctuary education and outreach coordinator Sarah Waters said. “It’s very exciting to see the new faces here and to have this opportunity to show them what Alpena and northeastern Michigan are all about.”

Registration for teams opens Wednesday morning, and each team will receive a gift bag from MATE containing information about MATE, industry partners and community coupons and brochures to encourage teams to explore the area. There will also be a variety of gifts in the bag for teams from partners, businesses and MATE.

“We are thrilled everyone has been so welcoming and excited about the competition coming to Alpena,” Waters said. “Some of the teams had to ship their robots in, especially teams from other countries, so we have been keeping them here at the headquarters for the competition and they will be able to pick them up when they register.”

Wednesday evening will be a welcome dinner for teams, judges, volunteers and industry partners.

The opening ceremony for the competition takes place Thursday morning in the big tent, where teams will be given an overview of the competition, and will start setting up their work stations.

“Each team has a table or “home base” to work on their vehicles,” Waters said. “Team posters will be set up in the visitors center, where anyone can come in and look at the designs from each team. The engineering communication judging begins Thursday afternoon.

With twice the number of teams as the regional competition, twice the volunteers have been recruited to help with everything from directing teams where they need to be during the competition, to diving in the pool to set up the missions between teams. There are over 100 volunteers involved in the competition, along with several volunteer judges from the Marine Tech industry, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Naval Sea Command, and several universities, all interested in interacting with students competing in the MATE competition.

Judges will be evaluating engineering and communication presentations at six different stations, along with a safety check to ensure there are no hazards for the volunteers. Teams will have practice time in the new tank to get used to the new environment, which Waters said is a great “real world” experience for the teams.

“MATE said this is the closest to a real world scenarios as they have had for missions,” Waters said. “This setting gives teams a feel of a ship on the water doing research, and forces them to deal with outside elements. It’s very different from being in a warm pool indoors.”

There will be an Ocean Exposition including industry and college partner displays, along with the sanctuary ROV simulator open Thursday for teams and the public to enjoy.

Tank missions start Friday morning, and spectators are encouraged to come and watch teams navigate through the missions on a live feed underneath a spectator tent with big screens to watch team progress from each station. Visitors can also watch the action live in the visitors center theater, where there will be a live stream with commentary during missions. Those who cannot attend the competition, or would like to keep up with their favorite team can go to to watch a live videostream from the competition with commentary.

Mission tasks include identifying a shipwreck, collecting microbial samples from a sinkhole, inventorying invasive species and removing trash, with each of these tasks simulating real-world problems from the ocean technology workplace. Each team is evaluated on the design, construction and performance of its ROV, the teams ability to communicate what they learned, and how they put their knowledge to use in developing their ROV.

Tank missions continue Saturday morning starting at 9 a.m. until 12 p.m., and teams will have the afternoon to pack up their supplies and ROVs, explore Alpena, and will have shuttle service available from the sanctuary to Alpena Community College to tour the marine technology program.

The awards ceremony will take place at the Alpena High School later Saturday evening.

The tank used for the competition is an 80 foot diameter, 600,000 gallon tank which has been nearly surrounded by a beautiful deck to house seven mission stations. Work to prepare the tank for the competition began just over two months ago when volunteer Mike Kendziorski discussed with sanctuary staff the need to have a permanent structure to serve as a platform for the event. The new platform deck was built with ramps and stairs to reach the platform, which extends around nearly two thirds of the tank.

“The deck is a piece of art,” maritime archaeologist and diving coordinator Tane Casserley said. “It fits the circular edges of the tank and has no rough edges. We are really grateful and appreciative of everyone who helped to put this together for the competition.”

Kendziorski worked with other volunteers to build the deck, which was funded by community donations and some federal funds. There are power outlets available for each team built into the stations, which will allow for all the electronic equipment to run without worrying about batteries or other power sources.

Waters encourages anyone interested in ROVs to come and watch the competition and enjoy this exciting event in Alpena.

“This is a great opportunity to see student-built, high-functioning underwater robots,” Waters said. “These teams are the best of the best in their classes, competing against each other. All the robots are designed differently and each team brings some different skill or design with them to the competition. It’s going to be a very exciting event and we can’t wait to see everyone here. The world is coming to Alpena, and we can’t wait to show it off. We hope they all have fun and enjoy their time here and come back again.”

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