Posted: 06/28/2013 06:32:25 PM PDT
APTOS -- Seventeen-year-old Chris Randolph is the president of Aptos High School's Robotics Club, but his business card gives him a different title: CEO, pilot and director of software engineering for Aptos Mariners Robotics LLC.
The "company" beat out 29 teams from around the world with their underwater robot, called The Kraken. They designed and built the robot, or remote operated vehicle, to repair a permanent ocean observation system, a collection of sensors used to gather data such as water temperature and salinity.
The annual competition, held by Monterey Peninsula College's Marine Advanced Technology Education, poses a reality-based problem for students to creatively engineer their way out of each year.
"At the competition, you'll see ROVs that look completely different, and you'd never guess they do the exact same thing," Chris said.
The 13-member Aptos team took first place for their mission performance, written technical report and in the competition overall.
In response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the challenge in 2011 was to build a robot capable of capping an underwater oil well.
The Aptos team won the international competition that year, too.
That was also the year Chris joined the team as a freshman, specializing in software design. He's spent the past three years tweaking his program that uses an Xbox controller to command the underwater robot.
Chris' younger sister, Catie Randolph, 16, started with the team this year as a sophomore and designed The Kraken's claw. Her brother then used his Xbox controller to tell the claw to open locks and doors and unplug and plug in cables on the station.
While competing with teams from Egypt, Scotland, Singapore and elsewhere, Catie said she stays focused on her job, not on the competition.
"At the international competition, I don't look at the other teams," Catie said. But when the teams are done competing, they get a chance to network, exchange ideas and make friends with young scientists from across the globe.
Another requirement of the competition is that teams present their work like a business.
"There's a lot more to it than just building. A lot more that people expect," said Kayla Zoliniak, 17. As the director of business development, she was in charge of fundraising more than $10,000 for parts and travel to get to the competition in Seattle.
"She's the other half of my brain," Chris said of Zoliniak. "I may be the technical president, but she does the actual organizing. I just give her word law."
Chris said Zoliniak also excels in the presentation aspect of the competition, when each team member has to explain his or her portion of the project to the judges. Chris and Katie said that's the hardest part of the competition for them.
Aptos' team is known for dressing up in suits for their presentation. Now, it's catching on and other teams are stepping up their game.
In addition to engineering and business, the team also includes specialists in areas such as environmental research and safety.
Joseph Manildi, a physics teacher at Aptos High and one of the team's mentors, said seeing kids with different interests work together has been his favorite part of the process.
"They were kids who didn't necessarily know each other (before joining the club)," Manildi said. "And they were able to bond and listen to each others' ideas and realize that they all have something to offer."