Teams with the most thought-out, developed and innovative projects were invited to present to leaders, angel investors, venture capitalists and distinguished energy leaders at the University of Texas in Austin.
In early 2018, project submissions from high school and college students across Texas were evaluated by a committee of leading UT faculty and industry experts. Finalists came to the campus during the 2018 Energy Week in February to pitch their ideas.
“Energy is one of the world’s most fundamental problems,” said Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute. “This turns students into central stakeholders who can move us from identifying problems and complaining about them to actually solving them.”
The United Nations Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals, developed the competition to inspire energy innovation and promote the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, eight of which are related to energy initiatives. The Youth Energy Summit looked for projects that were aligned with the following energy-related goals:
The annual competition includes two divisions: Youth Energy Summit for high school students and the Longhorn Energy Challenge, which is open to UT Austin students only.
Through the summit, UT is looking for some of the brightest young people who are interested in energy innovation.
Hundreds of high school teams entered the Youth Summit contest for high school students. Among the finalists was the VORTEX (Vehicles Operated Remotely of Texas) Robotics team from Nimitz High School.
The Nimitz team’s VORTEX project involves building a tidal stream generator, which uses ocean current tidal flows for producing electric power. This is combined with the use of an underwater robot. The project involves communicating to the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) using wireless controls from shore, thus eliminating the need for an ocean vessel tethered to the ROV. According to the campus website, conventional ROVs today require a vessel and tethered cables for ROV deployment and operation, which is costly and can limit the environments in which the ROV can be used.
The Nimitz students sought to produce a viable energy source using ocean tides. The ROV provides data about tidal flow, maintenance of the tidal stream generator, inspection of water quality, observance of marine life, reports underwater earthquakes and tsunamis while wirelessly operating the ROV from shore.
The team didn’t win the $10,000 first prize. The group finished in the final four, but came out of the experience with a wealth of knowledge and feedback from leading experts.
The team is under the direction of David Ericson. He is a technology teacher and heads the robotics engineering program at Nimitz HS.
“Aside from understanding the impact of energy on our society, the challenge also pushed us to develop our creative thinking skills to come up with ideas,” said Ericson. “This is a lifetime experience for everyone involved. I am so proud of the students.”
“Our goal is to place Nimitz High Schools’s underwater robotics in the top 10 in the world.”
The team’s next contest is the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) underwater robotics contest. The team aspires to make it to the MATE International ROV Championship in June. To advance to the international championship, the team must qualify by advancing through regional and state-level contests this spring. The Nimitz team has made it to the international competition several times.
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