Students participating in programs at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center this fall will have an opportunity to learn more about science with the assistance of a remotely controlled boat developed by NASA.
CBEC will be the first and only environmental center to introduce the Rover X-3 to its student programs.
NASA engineers visited CBEC on April 17 to demonstrate the use of the Rover X-3, the third generation of a 40-inch craft equipped with sensors to measure dissolved oxygen, Ph levels. temperature, salinity and more. It is driven by an air turbine powered by nickel-metal hydride batteries and operated remotely by toggle switches on a device that resembles a Playstation. Tiny cameras, including one that can operate beneath the surface, beam images from the vessel to screens on the remote.
The tests are recorded aboard the craft on LabQuest2 computer interfaces and downloaded for analysis once the craft returns to shore. It has a range of about 1,000 feet and can travel 5 miles per hour.
Patrick Coronado, who helped to develop the craft for NASA, said he hopes the craft will add fun to science. “NASA’s mission is to inspire the next generation,” he said. “We are able to provide kids the cool tools to reel them in and get them excited about science.”
NASA chose CBEC for the program because it has been working with the Grasonville center on other environmental projects with the assistance of the Howard B. Owens Science Center in Prince George’s County.
Twenty adult volunteers and staff were trained on preparing and operating the craft as well as downloading the data recorded on the craft. They will supervise students using the device beginning in September.
Judy Wink, CBEC’s executive director, said the Rover “adds a STEM component to our education endeavors for school kids.”
Monitoring the environment with remote controlled craft is not new for NASA. Coronado said NASA spends one-fourth of its budget on earth sciences. They already have drones and even a kite that will record data. A wind-powered sailboat with data-collecting devices is nearing completion.
Coronado said the watercraft is necessary to validate what they are seeing aboard aircraft.
He thought CBEC was an ideal partner to introduce the Rover X-3 to a younger generation because it has experience in teaching kids about science. About 10,000 to 15,000 children attend CBEC programs each year.
The project took nearly a decade to develop and comes at a cost of about $75,000.
“This platform in one of a kind,” he said. NASA expects to add two more Rovers to CBEC’s fleet.