The Newnan Times-Herald


Local team wins underwater robotics competition

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • May. 26, 2017 - 4:59 PM

Local team wins underwater robotics competition

Submitted photo

At the Memphis Regional competition for SeaPerch are, from left, Lt. Keriki Perkins of the U.S. Navy, mentor Shawn Yeager, Liam Yeager, mentor and father Sean Gannon, Ian White, Alex Couch, NCC Reginald Williams of the U.S. Navy and Sean Gannon.

A group of Newnan teens is in the midst of national competition at Georgia Tech after winning a regional underwater robotics event.

The Narwhals – Liam Yeager, Ian White, Sean Gannon and Alex Couch – defeated teams from throughout the Southeast to win the Memphis, Tenn. Regional SeaPerch competition. SeaPerch  is an underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) inside or out of a school setting. The program is sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

More than 200 sanctioned SeaPerch competitions are held each year, with anywhere from 20 to 100 teams competing in each event. Teams typically are made up of between three and six members who build their ROVs from kits composed of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.

The SeaPerch program

The SeaPerch Program provides students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science, and mathematics (STEM) while building an underwater ROV as part of a science and engineering technology curriculum. Throughout the project, students learn engineering concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and technical applications.

Liam Yeager became involved in the program in San Diego last year, when he partnered with another home-schooler to compete. The Yeagers have lived in Newnan for a dozen years but had temporarily located to California for a job assignment. Yeager intended to continue participating when the family moved back to Georgia, but there was a hiccup.

“He enjoyed it so much that originally we had planned a bi-coastal team for this season,” said Shawn Yeager, who serves as a mentor for his seventh-grade son’s team. “However, at the last minute, illness kept our California friends from participating this year and we thought we might miss out on competing this year completely.”

A late start

Risking a late start but determined to compete, Liam asked a neighborhood friend, Gannon, to participate with him. Gannon is a rising sophomore at East Coweta High School and is on a STEM track there. Gannon recruited Couch and White, who also are at ECHS and on the STEM track. For the middle-school Liam, that meant stepping up to the high school division and working within a small time window to prepare.

By the time they formed a team and designed, built and tested a robot, the Narwhals had only two events in which they could compete left in the season. The SeaPerch kit didn’t arrive until April 4 and although team members worked frantically to solder the printed circuit board, create the controller, wire and waterproof the motors, master the physics of buoyancy, size and weight and maneuverability, they still had a huge hurdle to overcome: The neighborhood pools were not yet open and they had no place to test their machine.

Aquatics director Ambur Humphrey solved that problem by offering the team dedicated times and lanes at the Summit Family YMCA pool in the days leading up to the April 15 competition in Atlanta. The students were dealt another major blow when the robot blew a motor on the night before the Atlanta event after a waterproof seal failed.

That left only Memphis.

The Narwhals win regionals

New motors and daily practice helped every team member learn to build, triage and race the robot. The students and their families left on Friday after school, drove six hours and were poolside by 8 a.m. on the day of the competition.

SeaPerch competition consists of three tasks:

  • Obstacle Course. This course requires the robot to pick up three rings and PVC cubes from the bottom of the pool and place them onto various arms on a platform suspended on the pool bottom. Maximum points are awarded for the rings on the furthest back position of the arm with a cube attached on its end.

  • Challenge Course. For this competition, the tethered robot has to traverse a 30-foot surface and then run it back the exact same way and touch the pool wall.

  • Engineering Notebook: Every team is required to submit an engineering notebook outlining the design engineering process the team went through and lessons learned in order to successfully field a competitive robot.

The Narwhals were the only team to earn the maximum number of points in the first challenge. Team members recorded the fastest time among competitors in the second challenge and earned the highest marks in the competition for their 11-page notebook.

Their performance in the regional event earned the Newnan students a championship and an invitation to the SeaPerch Nationals, where they currently are competing in a 200-team field at Georgia Tech.

For more information on the program, visit