Students Visit the Deep-sea Robot They Named


Seven students from a California high school took a field trip to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in September, after they submitted the winning entry in a nationwide contest to name a new hybrid, deep-sea vehicle under construction at WHOI.

The vehicle, formerly known as the Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle, or HROV, will be called Nereus after a mythical god with a fish tail and man's torso.

The winning team, from Monterey High School, included six boys and one girl who spent a day at WHOI meeting engineers, touring ships and vehicles, and even testing several mechanical components of the new vehicle, which will be capable of transforming from tethered robot to free-swimming vehicle.

“The biggest impression that the HROV left on me was its autonomous capability—that it can work even when the human connection at the surface is cut off,” said high school senior Matthew Hogan, 18 (shown seated in photo at right as he learns from WHOI research engineer Matt Heintz how to operate the vehicle’s manipulator arm).

Teacher Ron Woods said the experience provided students not only a glimpse of a first-of-its kind vehicle, but also “a real world example of how a team works to accomplish a goal.”

“It was an amazing experience to see the scientific method in action as the WHOI engineers took us through the Nereus design process,” said Woods, who accompanied students and several parent chaperones on the trip.

“Seeing the WHOI scientists and engineers joking together, and generally working in an informal yet productive atmosphere, was a great example for our students,” he said.

The $5-million vehicle should be ready for testing off the coast of Hawaii in November 2007, said project engineer Andy Bowen, who sponsored the students’ visit to WHOI. Scientists plan to use it at depths up to 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) and to explore remote, difficult-to-reach areas, including under the Arctic ice cap.

Engineers and ship's crew will be able to transform Nereus from a free-swimming vehicle for wide-area ocean surveys to a vehicle tethered by a cable to a surface ship that can be used for or close-up investigation and sampling of seafloor rocks and organisms.