Have you ever considered how to grow your hands-on skills as an aspiring engineer? You may want to consider participating in competitions to help hone your skills, boost your teamwork skills,
and provide you exposure on a national or international level! One track of competitions you can participate in is robotics competitions. You can fully expect to be given an avenue to apply classroom knowledge in a real-world environment.
In this blog, we have covered everything you need to know about the MATE ROV competition, including its format, prizes, eligibility, dates and deadlines, as well as a few tips to help you win.
What is the MATE ROV Competition?
The MATE ROV Competition, hosted by the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center, challenges competitors to design, build, and maintain functional Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The regional and annual MATE ROV World Championships is a solid (and popular) opportunity for high school students of various skill levels to leverage science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to address real-world issues of the natural environment.
Participating in MATE, and designing, building, and maintaining a functional ROV will challenge you to be consistent and meticulous, develop creative solutions, and have a strong understanding of relevant engineering concepts.
In addition to the engineering component of the competition, you will also work on your entrepreneurial spirit and other technical and soft skills needed to excel in the ocean STEM workforce. At MATE ROV Competition, teams of students work together as a company to establish the administrative structure and roles for each member.
The tasks of the MATE ROV competition are centered around each year’s focus, with this year’s being the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
How prestigious is the MATE ROV Competition?
From our review, previous MATE ROV competitors have gone on to attend the most prestigious institutions including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, and more. Each year approximately 60 teams are invited to compete at the World Championships with only 3 teams taking home the coveted top prize in their competition class. Adding to the competition's prestige is its financial support from several US government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Who is eligible?
MATE ROV is a team-based competition, meaning that students may not compete as individuals. Teams of at least three students and one faculty or adult mentor may represent schools, after-school programs, clubs, and community organizations.
Teams will register to compete in one of five competition classes, which corresponds to the level of knowledge and technical acumen involved in designing the ROV and completing the tasks. Specific eligibility guidelines will vary depending on the competition class, so we strongly recommend that you look at the eligibility requirements of your specific competition class.
To compete at the MATE ROV World Championship, teams must qualify at participating regionals in either the Ranger, Pioneer, or Explorer classes.
1. Ranger Class
The Ranger class is recommended for middle and high school students who have an intermediate/solid understanding of robotics and electricity. Ranger is a suitable starting point for anyone familiar with land-based robotics. Generally, less “from-scratch” design work is involved in Ranger class ROVs, as many parts technologies can be purchased from hardware retailers. Students competing in the Ranger class will build functional and operable ROVs that are ready to take on several underwater tasks.
2. Pioneer Class The Pioneer class is suitable for first-time 2- and 4-year college and university students. As the newest addition to MATE ROV, the pioneer class serves as the precursor to the Explorer class. With that in mind, it is designed to challenge students to apply advanced robotics concepts in a dynamic environment.
3. Explorer Class The Explorer class is the most advanced level and is suitable for universities and high school students with significant experience in underwater robotics who have previously participated in the MATE ROV Competition. The mission and tasks in the Explorer class competition build upon the complex structure of the Pioneer class challenges through real-world scenarios.
Registration for the MATE ROV competition opens on December 1 of each year. Regional competitions typically take place in the Spring and will vary by region. The World Championship takes place during the summer each year, with this year’s competition being held on June 22-24.
How much does it cost?
The registration fee for the regional competition is $250-$450 per team, depending on the class of the participating team. Teams planning to compete with hydraulic or pneumatic equipment on their ROV must also purchase and complete the MATE ROV Competition Fluid Power Quiz, which costs $25. There are also additional costs associated with designing your ROV and participating in the competition, which will explore further in a moment. In total, the competition can cost a few hundred to a few thousand per team depending on several factors.
How do you win?
Teams are scored across three categories: product demonstrations, engineering and communication, and safety. In order to win, teams must consider their teamwork, communication, and governance skills in addition to their technical acumen as those will all be considered in the scoring process.
What do you win?
Winning teams receive prizes that vary depending on the class. At this year’s World Championship, the first-place prize across all classes included a trophy, $500 in cash, and in-kind prizes from MATE ROVs sponsors.
Who should participate?
This competition is for students interested in robotics, computer science, electrical and/or mechanical engineering. MATE ROV Competition teams often consist of students from multiple STEM backgrounds and can comprise multiple grades.
While any eligible student from across the world can compete in the MATE ROV Competition, that also means that the competition is frequented by students at a diverse array of educational institutions, including technical institutions and specialized high schools.
Here are a few things you should keep in mind before forming a team to compete at MATE ROV -
Will your team be fully available for a multi-month commitment? Designing and building an ROV from scratch will take your team many months of consistent teamwork, which can be an exciting opportunity for growth for many high school students. As a student looking to compete at MATE ROV, you should consider the capacity all of your team members and your team mentor have for this undertaking before registering.
Consider your team’s mentor From our research, team mentor fit is one of the most crucial aspects of preparing for the competition. As a student, you will need someone to teach you how to apply engineering concepts to the design of an underwater robot in a knowledgeable and safe manner. You will also need an advisor that has the time and energy to guide your team. Your mentor, whether it is a faculty member of your school, club, or community organization, should have relevant industry experience that can help your team in building your ROV.
How would your team plan on funding the design of your ROV as well as the costs associated with competing in person at the competition? The additional costs of the MATE ROV competition will go towards funding the development and construction of your ROV, the resources needed to evaluate your ROV before the competition, and the potential travel and lodging costs associated with participation. MATE sells ROV building kits for teams in the Ranger and Pioneer classes which cost either $850 or $1260 depending on the model. Before registering your team should consider whether you will have the financial resources sufficient for participating in the competition.
Will your team have access to a pool to test out your ROV? The competition centers around robots that are intended for underwater use. It will be important to your team’s success that you have a realistic sense of how well your ROV is performing ahead of the competition. MATE themselves encourage all participating teams to have access to a pool or comparable natural water source (one that has enough depth and water clarity to test and see your ROV).
How do you participate?
Since its inception in 2002, the MATE ROV Competition has expanded to consist of a regional qualifier and a world championship competition. Teams wishing to compete will have to register for a participating regional (see list of regional competitions here) and qualify at regionals in order to be eligible to compete at the World Championship.
All teams must complete and pass the MATE ROV Competition Fluid Power Quiz in order to compete at participating regionals. This can be done at any time regardless of your regional competition registration date.
Detailed technical reporting and safety documentation is required for all competing teams. The required technical documentation is viewable on the webpage for your corresponding competition class.
Tips For Success
Thoroughly review the instructions, rules, and scoring guidelines. Each competition season, the MATE ROV team releases documents of detailed guidelines on what tasks will be required and what equipment should be included in a team’s ROV. While it may seem daunting having more than 70 pages of instructions to comb through, it really is for your benefit! Having a strong understanding of the task at hand at suitable design is essential for having a competitive edge. At the very least, not misreading or missing crucial instructions will help you to avoid some point deductions or disqualification.
View the technical reports, specification sheets, and job safety analysis (JSA) of previous competitors. MATE ROV makes previous competitors’ technical reports viewable from their competition archive. You can cross reference the list of winning teams and find their accompanying technical report in order to set goals and get a sense of what successful documentation looks like.
If you’re in the United States, look into leveraging Evaluate-Compete (E-Compete). E-Compete is a free assessment service that teams participating in MATE ROV can apply for. Gaining access to E-Compete allows teams to receive feedback on the core competencies that are needed to succeed in the competition. While the method is still in pilot testing, the MATE themselves recommend that students use E-Compete as a preparation tool.
Find a knowledgeable mentor. Because of the technical rigor that MATE ROV asks of its competitors, having a good mentor will be highly influential to the team’s progress. Our research shows that students who are guided by mentors with significant industry experience, including robotics, mechanical engineering, and ROV engineering, will feel more confident about their progress leading up to the competition. The real-world applications of MATE ROV mean that the content will vary heavily from what is used in a physics classroom.
Don’t get intimidated by the rigor of the competition. As a new team, it may be easy to feel intimidated by the skills displayed by previous competitors but do not let that deter you from working towards building a functional ROV. After all, engineering and robotics competitions can be about so much more than winning. The MATE ROV Competition is an opportunity to learn more about the applications of engineering and grow your technical and professional skills.
Supplement your classroom knowledge with additional reading. MATE offers a suite of additional free and paid resources on their website to learn more about ROV building. They offer product demonstration, suggested parts, FAQs, and even a textbook for students who would like to learn more about the specifics of building an ROV. Your team could also consider leveraging outside resources to read and learn more about ROVs, including sources at local libraries or talking to industry experts,
The MATE ROV Competition is both rigorous and rewarding. It offers students the unique opportunity to advance their practical application of engineering concepts and introduces students to the world of possibilities within underwater robotics. Competing in MATE ROV allows students to further demonstrate their interest and rigor in engineering. This competition is suitable for highly motivated students who may be interested in an engineering career. For students interested in group-based robotics competitions, other prestigious opportunities can be found in the First Robotics, VEX Robotics, or RoboCup Junior Competitions.
While the soft and hard skills gained in the process of preparing for the competition are invaluable, participating in MATE ROV requires significant time and resources. We recommend the MATE ROV Competition if it aligns with your current educational or professional goals and you are able to find the resources to compete.
One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are passionate about research in robotics and engineering, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that was founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Ive Jones is a current senior at Princeton University Studying Health Policy and Dance. She is fiercely passionate about transforming the landscape of what is possible in America's healthcare system. Aside from her intellectual interests, she enjoys eating food from across the world, running, and experiencing performance art.
Image Source: MATE ROV 2023