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Girls with Robots: Empowering exploration through marine technology

Erika Bergman showing Girl In Pink how to use ROV

Erika Bergman showing Girl In Pink how to use ROV

Our Arctic expedition may have officially launched a week ago but Team Sedna began for me a full year ago. When I was invited to join the Team, I wondered, How can I share my enthusiasm for ocean exploration with young women in the Arctic? The answer? Robots.

I decided I would build small remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with girls in my own home town of Port Angeles, Washington, and then take these underwater robots with me for young women in the Arctic to pilot. And that’s just what we did!

A group of 13 and 14 year old girls joined me every weekend for several months to weld the acrylic shell, solder motor leads, and program the electronics package for our very own ROVs from an open source design called an OpenROV. After some very cool testing in our own backyard glacial lake, I packed up our little underwater robots in a bright yellow Nanuk case and headed north.

Erika Bergman setting up ROV for test

Erika Bergman setting up ROV for test

It’s Saturday morning on our first day in Nain, Labrador. A crowd of local kids has begun to gather and ponder the group of transient women who are opening crates and building things on the dock. I open the mysterious yellow box and out come the ROVs. There are lots of helping hands around me cheerfully plugging in cables as directed and waiting for the moment the robot comes alive.

Everyone is staring intently at my laptop, the ROV’s flight controls pop up on the black screen like the navigation tools on a jet airplane and then flash! All of a sudden, right on screen, all of their faces are staring back at them through the eyes of the ROV. What the ROV sees is real, it’s all happening underwater right now, right beneath their very own pier.

A dozen or so local girls and boys take turns flying the ROV underwater. We find cans and bike parts along the fine silt of the bottom. Each discovery leading to loud cheers of surprise by what they can see. By far the most popular part of the experience is the fact that the robot is controlled with a cheap, standard game pad controller just like an X-Box or PlayStation video game. These kids are fantastic pilots! Perhaps a little timid at first to be handed the controller but the moment they start flying it’s obvious they posses an almost innate sense of spatial awareness and hand eye coordination.

Wonder comes in many forms. My favorite is the gigantic cheesy smiles of young people, realizing for the first time that they have mad skills they had no idea they possessed.

With that, let the exploration commence!

To read more about the ROVs and my ace gang of engineering girls, check out our OpenExplorer expedition: https://openexplorer.com/expedition/arcticexpedition

Where Was Erika?

56 degrees 32 minutes 32 seconds North
61 degrees 41 minutes 34 seconds West

Posted By: Erika Bergman
Date: July 24, 2014

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