Science of Undersea Volcanoes at MATE Center’s 2010 International ROV Competition Next Week at UH Hilo


Media Release:

An underwater robot carefully navigates the precarious terrain of Lo’ihi, an active undersea volcano located off the coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Its operators maneuver the vehicle into a small opening in the wall of a crater, hoping to collect samples of a species potentially new to science. Will they succeed before an earthquake or eruption forces them to abort the mission?

Students participating in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center’s ROV competition will find out when they face similar challenges this summer. To be held June 24-26 on the Big Island of Hawai’i, the theme of MATE’s competition is undersea volcanoes and the role that underwater robots, known as remotely operated vehicles ( ROVs ), play in their science and exploration.

Organized by MATE and the Marine Technology Society’s (MTS) ROV Committee, the ROV competition is designed to present middle school, high school, community college, and university students with the same types of challenges that scientists and engineers face when working underwater. Since 2002, student teams from all over the world have been meeting annually to put their skills in designing, building, and piloting ROVs to the test.

MATE’s 2010 mission tasks challenge teams to deploy instruments, take sensor readings, plot data, and collect samples of geologic features and organisms that inhabit the flanks of a simulated underwater volcano. In addition to the underwater missions, teams must make oral and written engineering presentations to a panel of judges representing the marine industry. Each team is evaluated on the design, construction, and performance of its ROV ; the members’ ability to communicate what they learned; and how they put their knowledge to use in designing and building their ROV .

ROVs are underwater robots used to support scientific research, the offshore oil and gas and telecommunications industries, underwater archaeology, underwater construction and structural inspections, and port and harbor security. MATE’s competitions use ROVs to teach technical, engineering, scientific, and critical thinking skills—skills that are in great demand in today’s technical workplace. MATE’s competitions are also important because they help students see themselves in careers where they can apply these skills, a critical step in addressing the shortage of qualified engineers and technical professionals.

The University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Hilo is hosting the 2010 competition. With approximately 4,000 students and highly-regarded programs in engineering and marine science, UH Hilo is one of ten branches of the state-supported University of Hawai‘i System. The Hawai’i Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) helped MATE to develop this year’s mission scenarios about the science and exploration of Loihi. Established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Hawai‘i as part of UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, HURL’s purpose is to study deep water marine processes in the Pacific Ocean.

About the MATE Center
Headquartered at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California, the MATE Center is a national partnership of community colleges, universities, high schools, employers, and working professionals whose mission is to improve marine technical education and meet marine workforce needs. Its competition is the first student robotics competition to focus exclusively on ROVs. The MATE ROV competition is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the MTS ROV Committee, NOAA, and other ocean- and technology-related organizations. For more information, please visit

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