Sixty-five teams from nearly two-dozen countries gathered in June at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way for a three-day competition aimed to advance the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in underwater environments.

The theme of this year’s competition was Jet City: Aircraft, Earthquakes, and Energy, and highlighted the role ROVs play in supporting underwater archaeology, seismology, and renewable energy. Teams from K-12, community colleges, and universities were invited to design, build, and test underwater ROVs that could complete specified, simulated, real-world ocean missions, while also working as a mock company to manufacture, market, and sell their ROVs.


Photo courtesy of MATE.

The event, which marked its 17th year, is the product of the Monterey, Calif.-based, Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center. The competition aims to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, as well as bolster students’ interests in science and technology careers at an early age.

In addition to the competition, a secret mission was folded into the event this year, allowing teams to earn bonus points. Inspired by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s expedition to find the sunken USS Indianapolis, teams were challenged to collaborate and work together to piece together a puzzle of the USS Indianapolis at the bottom of the pool. Based on how much of the puzzle was assembled, teams earned points not only for themselves, but also for the other teams that contributed.

Winners were comprised of two categories (advanced ‘Explorers’ and intermediate ‘Rangers’) and included the following:

Explorer — First Place: Alexandria University Vortex Titans (Alexandria, Egypt); Second Place: The Center of Robotics Development (Vladivostok, Russia); Third Place: Alexandria University MIA (Alexandria, Egypt).

Ranger — First Place: Macau Anglican College Fish Logic (Taipa, Macau); Second Place: Northern Ozaukee High School Ozaukee Robotics (Fredonia, Wisconsin); Third Place: The Center for Robotics Development Robocenter (Vladivostok, Russia).

Locally, high school senior and Port Townsend STEM Club member Ella Ashford received the Martin Klein MATE Mariner Medal, which recognizes an individual or team that exhibits an outstanding passion for the competition process — win or lose — as well as a genuine interest in the competition’s mission and a long-term interest in the field.

Other local competitors included students from Woodinville High School and the Port Townsend STEM Club, which is comprised of five schools on the Kitsap Peninsula. Local event sponsors included Microsoft, Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission, and the University of Washington.

More than 18,000 students have participated in the competition since it was introduced in 2001, according to MATE Center officials, and many have pursued engineering or technical degrees, received STEM-related scholarships or internships, landed jobs at research facilities or engineering companies, and even started their own companies.

More information is available online at