Kailua Kids Win Sea Science Prize

An oil tanker has sunk and damage must be assessed. The ship’s mast is sitting on the ocean floor among a field of debris. It’s difficult to determine what is twisted metal and what is coral.

While simulating various sonar readings and relocating biological materials, a team of scientists must retrieve the fallen mast, extract a sample of bunker oil and graph the orientation of the ship. They have 15 minutes to complete their mission.

Sound intense?


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The Kailua High MATE team is off to Florida. Photo from Len Poleshaj

It’s a scenario the Kailua High School Underwater Robotics Team will face in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) International Robotics Competition June 21 to 23 in Orlando, Fla. The Surfriders qualified for the international event by winning first place in the Hawaii Underwater Robotics Challenge.

“The biggest joy in working with the kids was knowing that these group of friends hang out during breaks at school and even on weekends,” says the team’s adviser and mentor Len Poleshaj. “The shop they had worked in had been vandalized, and expensive tools were stolen earlier in the year, and still they were resourceful enough to overcome that setback.”

Kailua High School’s team members are all juniors; six are from Waimanalo and three are from Kailua. They’ll be up against schools from all across the United States as well as teams from China, Macao, Russia and the United Kingdom.

The team started its journey in January, meeting on campus three days a week to build the remotely operated vehicle or ROV. Once the robot was built, they moved their meetings to Poleshaj’s Kailua home, where they practiced with the robot in his pool.

“The team sacrificed some late weeknights and often worked on the weekends as we got closer to the competition to perfect the missions and work on their oral presentations,” says Poleshaj.

The ROV functions at its tasks while submerged in water but is controlled by team members on the surface, who use pneumatics and an electronic control box. The ROV is equipped with four video cameras, which send a live feed to a TV monitor the team views on the surface. All of these systems were designed and engineered by the team members.

Poleshaj says the team has been extremely successful at generating a company approach to designing and developing a remarkable machine that has performed the required missions and tasks to meet the challenges presented by MATE.

“During the entire development of the ROV, the team had the confidence of believing they and only they were going to win the regionals,” says Poleshaj. “At the competition there was a major breakdown of the ROV. As a team, they came together, created a plan of attack, scrambled, retrieved the needed repair parts from a local hardware store, made the repair and continued with the competition schedule for the day.”

The team is currently fundraising to meet travel expenses for the international competition in Florida, including an upcoming imu service. Tickets cost $20 and must be pre-purchased at Kailua High School. Supporters can bring up to 25 pounds of their own seasoned and wrapped meat to put in the imu. The imu drop off is on Friday, June 15, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Pickup will be Saturday, June 16, from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

“The regional competition was held May 19, which gave us less than one month to figure out how to attain the funds for transportation and lodging for nine boys to Orlando,” says Poleshaj. “The estimated required for airfare, accommodations, meals and shipping the ROV is $29,000. These kids are very aware they truly have a great chance at being the best in the world, and that is some pretty exciting stuff!”

For more information on how you can help, contact Len Poleshaj at 256-4343.