The Journal of Extension -

April 2016 // Volume 54 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // v54-2tt8

Resources for Underwater Robotics Education

4-H clubs can build and program underwater robots from raw materials. An annotated resource list for engaging youth in building underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) is provided. This article is a companion piece to the Research in Brief article "Building Teen Futures with Underwater Robotics" in this issue of the Journal of Extension.

Michael L. Wallace
Extension Educator
Washington State University Extension
Bellingham, Washington

William M. Freitas
Lego Serious Play Facilitator
Logic Play
Sarasota, Florida

A Sea of Opportunity

Automation is a fact of virtually any industry in the 21st century. Young people considering entering any engineering or industrial field will benefit from learning about robotics. 4-H robotics projects can increase youth's exposure to and interest in engineering careers and have been documented to improve test scores in school (Sneider, 2013; Yager & Falk, 2008). Beyond industry applications, underwater robotics are being used as valuable tools in citizen science efforts and water data gathering in a variety of environments (McNeill, Jirik, & Rugg, 2014). Through initial project exploration, citizen science, and national level competitions, robotics projects encourage youth to build critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills as they become effective engineers in robotic science.

Despite perceptions that robotics projects are costly, beginning projects are reasonably priced, and resources are abundant. Moreover, developing an experiential youth science program focused on the creation of underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) is not restricted to a few individuals with specialized knowledge and skills. Youth who are implementing more advanced projects definitely benefit from working with volunteers who have expertise in engineering and science. However, such volunteers do not have to be involved unless the project skill level makes their engagement necessary. As always, passionate volunteers who have less expertise can learn alongside youth, using numerous beginning-level resources. The section that follows identifies resources that can be used to aid interested groups in getting started in 4-H robotics projects.

Underwater Robotics Resources That Work

Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center

The MATE Center offers several resources, including a textbook on underwater robotics. The center also hosts national competitions.


SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that allows youth to learn to build an underwater ROP. Youth can start with a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts and follow a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.

Build Your Own Underwater Robot and Other Wet Projects

The book Build Your Own Underwater Robot and Other Wet Projects, by Harry Bohm and Vickie Jensen, is considered by many to contain the best practical instructions for robotics beginners. It teaches simple projects suitable for elementary-aged youth through more complex projects for advanced high school–aged students.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Explorer

This NOAA Ocean Explorer website provides links to a great number of educational resources related to the study of oceans, some of which include ROV information.

Homebuilt ROVs

The website Homebuilt ROVs, produced by Steve Thone, is dedicated to the activity of building ROVs and contains an impressive page of links to suppliers and designs.

4-H Junk Drawer Robotics

The National 4-H curriculum series 4-H Junk Drawer Robotics is a good resource for reinforcing inquiry and experiential practices while helping youth learn about engineering robotics, with and without Lego® Mindstorms®.

4-H Science in Urban Communities

Rutgers University offers 4-H Science in Urban Communities, a guide for accessing resources to start a science, engineering, and technology club project in an urban area.


In conclusion, there are vast resources, many of which are accessible and affordable, available for all levels of robotics project participation. Underwater robotics addresses not only National 4-H science, technology, engineering, and math goals but also civic engagement and citizen science goals (Sneider, 2013). For the diehard 4-H players, the opportunities for peer competition are also ample.


McNeill, B., Jirik, P., & Rugg, B. (2014). 4-H and aquatic robotics. Journal of Extension [online], 52(6). Article 6IAW7. Available at:

Sneider, C. (Presenter). (2013, March 7). 4-H Science E-Academy, Plenary 4: Next Generation Science Standards [podcast]. Retrieved from

Yager, R. E., & J. H. Falk (Eds.). (2008). Exemplary science in informal education settings: Standards-based success stories. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.