KCS robotics teams make splash at aquatic competition

Rick Wagner • Jul 2, 2018 at 1:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Two underwater robotics teams, one from Dobyns-Bennett High School and the other from D-B EXCEL, recently gained valuable experience at an international competition near Seattle.

“Both teams did really well,” said Dennis Courtney, director of STREAMWORKS and regional coordinator for Tennessee MATE. “For first-year teams, they did well.”

D-B robotics coach Luke Douthat said neither Kingsport team finished in the top three and that the complete results will be released later.

The D-B EXCEL team, the R-Mateys,  won an innovation award for a hydraulic lift mechanism on its robot during the competition at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Washington. 


Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) hosted the 2018 International ROV Competition. The event drew an estimated 1,200 contestants, judges and officials.

The competition featured students from all around the world, including Hong Kong, Scotland, Egypt, Russia, Turkey and Bermuda. The event also highlighted the role that remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) play in supporting underwater archaeology, seismology and renewable energy activities specifically in the Pacific Northwest.

Both local teams are to take part in next year’s MATE competition, but they won’t have to travel: It will be held in Kingsport June 20-22.

“We should have 1,000 kids from all over the world coming to Kingsport and running their underwater robots in the Aquatic Center,” Courtney said.


Courtney said both teams got a firsthand look at the international competition among 65 teams from 19 countries. Those teams came from 715 that competed at regional events.

For instance, students had to calculate where a simulated aircraft that went down in a bay would come to rest so the robot could find it.

“Under pressure, they realized the stress was high,” Courtney said. “They realized it was possible to fail.”

The teams also had to pass a safety inspection, do two product demonstrations, a technical report, and a presentation and marketing display, which the D-B team (D-B H20) won in the pilot regional. Aside from recovering the engine from a submerged plane after moving debris, the teams had to set up a way to record earthquake data and place turbines to generate energy underwater.


D-B team members Hayden Hufford, chief engineer, and Makaila Freemen, chief financial officer, are both rising sophomores. Their teammates are rising juniors Savannah Miller and Tiffany Fish and rising sophomores Alex Long, Chase Bishop and Ryan Barganier. D-B biology teachers Luke Douthat and Amanda Blackburn were coaches, advisers and mentors.

Both Kingsport teams competed in the Ranger Class. The Explorer Class had more college teams, although the competition has no age restrictions.

The D-B EXCEL team began about a year ago, while the D-B team launched early this year.

Both teams also had participated in a regional competition at the Aquatic Center in April. Central High School in Wise County also fielded a team at that event.

 The D-B students interacted with teams from Egypt, New Jersey, Germany and California, and the teams collaborated by, among other things, sharing parts and expertise. 

“People went out of their way to help us,” Makaila said.

Hayden was allowed to pilot another team’s robot, and Makaila has become friends with a New Jersey student who will be attending Georgia Tech this fall to study engineering.

Makaila plans to become an aerospace engineer, Hayden a chemical engineer.

She said folks were surprised when the team practiced in their hotel pool and quickly got their children out of the water, although she said there was no danger. In a video submitted as part of the competition, the team used the indoor D-B swimming pool with swim team members in the lanes in the background.

Science teacher Antonia Adinolfi was the D-B EXCEL coach, adviser and mentor. Members of the R-Mateys were rising senior Richard Vautrin-Hickam, rising junior Shelby Rose, rising junior Gavin Bentley, rising sophomore Braden DeBruin, rising sophomore Ashlee Wall and rising junior Quintin Folkner.

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