Fleming Island High students win International Seaperch title

By Randy Lefko
Posted 6/6/18

DARTMOUTH, Mass. – After beating their first-round competition by nearly 40 seconds, a pair of Fleming Island High students took the top prize in the 2018 International Seaperch Challenge held here …

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Fleming Island High students win International Seaperch title


DARTMOUTH, Mass. – After beating their first-round competition by nearly 40 seconds, a pair of Fleming Island High students took the top prize in the 2018 International Seaperch Challenge held here June 2-3.

Sophomore Jordan Detwiler and freshman Austin Hughes combined talents for the remaining three tasks to top teams from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Croix as well as from all around the United States comprised the 183-team field. Teams were broken up into an Open class, a High School class and a Middle School class with nicknames such as MS Missiles, Sea Eagles, Smurf Elites and ShaPoppin' SeaOwls creating the rosters. Detwiler and Hughes are the Hetwiler Halibuts.

“I’m stunned,” said Hughes, who traveled with dad Jim Hughes while Detwiler was with her mother, Teri Briggs. “I really didn’t think we were going to get this after the second day. I had a bad run.”

The duo began competing in Seaperch three years ago while students at Lakeside Junior High and came into the event as highly-ranked past participants. Last year, the duo won second place in the high school competition at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The duo finished fifth in 2016.

“We’ve been together for a while and occasionally we don't get along, but the end result is that we both have the passion to be the best at this,” Detwiler said. “I think it’s more that we push each other than not getting along. In the end, we both know the team is the key to taking the top prize here.”

Hughes said weeks prior to the event that the Halibuts’ goal was to win first place in all of the aspects of the tournament to bolster their recent region wins with overwhelming scores in all skills sets.

At area region qualifiers, the Halibuts have been the talk of the respective arenas with their unique robot designs and their uncanny speed and accuracy.

Seaperch is an underwater-based robotics challenge that incorporates a number of underwater skill sets including a “Finesse” Challenge that has two underwater podiums; one with plastic objects that must be transported about 20 feet from one to the other in a 15-minute time limit. There is also the “Obstacle” Challenge that requires speed and underwater dexterity while traversing underwater rings set at different depths and angles with typical top times at about one minute within the seven-minute maximum time limit.

The second part of the Seaperch competition includes an engineer’s notebook that details the preparation, research and presentation of work to ready for the event. The Top 10 notebooks would be selected at the championship event with the additional scholarly task of orally presenting their notebook to a panel of Seaperch judges, which is comprised of engineers and officials. Detwiler and Hughes won Best Notebook and second for Best Presentation.

On day one, Detwiler, who manned the remote-control box which is attached by an electronic tether to the remote underwater vehicle, or ROV, while Hughes fed and negotiated her tether so as not to interfere with her top-speed reversals from platform to platform, opened the door for the Halibuts to be the top threat for the high school title with a record two-minute, 23-second fastest round split. Times of 3:00 and 3:15 were the second and third splits.

From there, the duo ushered away to prep for their notebook interview in the UMass-Dartmouth student center. Only judges and interviewees were allowed in the room.

Hughes emerged from the room and said that things “Went well, but I don’t know” as the two had a night to strategize for their noon “Obstacle Challenge” with Hughes manning the remote and Detwiler the tether.

For Hughes, the obstacle challenge has seen his times drop to as low as the mid-20 second range with most competitors staying in the 30-35 second range.

“We’ve streamlined a lot of the way we've built the robot with some adjustments after the finesse challenge, but we are not at liberty to share those ideas,” said Jim Hughes. “Every team goes through a bunch of the motors and designs to capture the fastest and most maneuverable ROV.”

In his obstacle challenge, Hughes stumbled a bit in his first of two runs with a 4- second run that included a hiccup on a horizontally-set third of six rings on the course.

As Hughes reset for his second run trying to visualize the course in his head, the natatorium awaited an epic run.

It didn’t happen. Hughes missed the last hoop and had to return around to get through, though he still clocked a 41-second run to capture fifth place.

“His fastest is amazing,” said Jim Hughes. “I’m proud that he didn’t let the frustration get to him. This is a team sport with everything counting so Jordan's run gave us some breathing room.”

At the awards ceremony, in the UMass gym, teams awaited the results with the Gulf Coast Contenders Club of Meridian, Mississippi, looking to give the Halibuts a real challenge for the overall title. Gulf Coast was last year’s overall champion.

“When they announced Gulf Coast second, I had a good idea that we had pulled it off,” said Jim Hughes. “The way the gym erupted when they were announced was priceless because everyone here knows how hard everyone works just to get here and there are a lot of teams that come from very far away for their shot.”


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