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Sink or swim for Lenape students at competition in Butler

| Friday, May 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Louis B.Ruediger | Leader Times
Lenape Tech students Riley Johnson, Lynsie Headley and Luke Waltz work on a wire harness for their submarine that will compete in the Sea, Air and Land Challenge at Butler Community College Saturday. Thursday May 1, 2014

Some Lenape Technical School students are counting on their latest project to hold water — literally — and surface as a winner in Saturday's Sea, Air and Land Challenge at Butler County Community College.

A team of juniors and seniors from the Manor school have been putting their heads together for four months to build a robotic submarine for the competition hosted by the Penn State Electro-Optics Center in South Buffalo.

The challenge pits teams from five schools against each other to see whose robots can make it through obstacle courses with a payload. In addition to Lenape, teams from Seneca Valley, Norwin, Butler and Kiski Area school districts will compete.

“We have somewhat of an advantage as a technical school,” mechatronics teacher Eric Longwell said about Lenape's first foray into the event.

As the name of the event implies, robots will be tested in obstacles on land, in the air and underwater. Lenape's two teams have been working on their robot since January. The submarine team called the Barracudas will send a robot through a course in a 26,000 gallon water tank. The course requires the robots to be able to detect hot and cold spots under water.

Another team, the Land Sharks, will make their way with a tank-like robot through an obstacle course with side walls and other obstacles.

Students built and programmed the robots, all the while making sure their project is within budget constraints and deadlines. The final creations are roughly a foot long and weigh between five and 10 pounds.

The project had a budget of $750, according to organizers. Lenape spent about $300 total on the teams' projects. Resourceful students pitched in, finding items at the school that would work and bringing in materials from family machine shops.

Barracuda team member Lynsie Headley, 18, of Ford City has never done a project like their submarine before. A senior studying computer-aided design and drafting for pre-engineering, she plans to pursue mechanical engineering at Penn State's New Kensington campus.

“I've learned a lot more about electrical stuff,” she said about getting ready for the competition. “This really showed me about different aspects of electronics.”

Headley's teammate, Jake Waltz, 17, of Leechburg, said there was more to the challenge than he'd expected. He is studying CADD for engineering technology.

“It was interesting learning the engineering project,” he said. “It was something we'd never done before.”

Heather Simpson, who teaches pre-engineering tech at Lenape, said students are excited and a little nervous as the competition approaches.

“It's kind of hard to test a submarine when we don't have a pool,” she said.

But she added that trial and error is an important part of the process: “In engineering, there's always something that's going to go wrong somewhere, and you're going to learn from it.”

Julie E. Martin is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.

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