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Robotics at the Sea Floor- A Simulation. This lesson helps students create robots that would complete missions at the sea floor and would also explore the different career paths available to students .

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Robotics at the Sea Floor- A Simulation

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This lesson helps students create robots that would complete missions at the sea floor and would also explore the different career paths available to students.

We wanted to know howmarine biologists, oceanographers, robotic engineers, computer engineers, Ichthyologists, hydrographers and cartographers respond to emergencies like an oil spill?


We created robots using The Challenge Kit from Legos ( or you can create paper/cardboard robots if your teacher does not teach robotics). These robots will complete missions that will not only allow you to use programming skills but also explore career opportunities.

we used these activity cards
We used these activity cards.
  • Hydrographers and Cartographers
  • Hydorgraphersmap the ocean floor.  The ship’s Navigator steers the ship over the ocean floor and the Hydrographers use a multi-beam sonar to “see” the bottom of the ocean.  Using the data from the Hydrographers, Cartographers will begin the process of updating NOAA Nautical Charts.
  • Mission: Build a robot to travel back and forth over the Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary (found in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico near the Texas border) and use sonar to chart the shape of the coral reefs. They are very bumpy and irregular. (View the video from the Pisces.) Then draw a chart of the bottom of the ocean.


  • Ichthyologistsstudy fish. There are more fish species than the combined total of all other vertebrates: mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds. Dr. Herbert Axelrod is probably the best-known Fish expert in the United States. The practice of ichthyology is associated with marine biology and fisheries science. A Reef Fish survey is done to monitor the health and abundance of reef fish so scientists can establish limits on how much fish the fishing industry can take out of the ocean.
  • After a scientist catches fish, he or she measures the fish - taking three different measurements of length. The Total Length (TL) measurement which is from the mouth of the fish to the longest point on the tail; the Fork Length (FL) from the mouth of the fish to the indention of the tail; the Standard Length (SL) which is from the mouth of the fish to the base of the tail.
  • Mission: Create a robot using the rotation sensor to measure the fish caught by the Marine Biologists on the Pisces. Choose one of the fish (large construction shaped fish) “caught” on the Bandit Reel and measure it using the robot. Record the three lengths in “number of rotations”.
  • Total Length (TL)
  • Fork Length (FL)
  • Standard Length (SL)

Computer Engineer

  • A Computer Engineer is vital to the scientific community aboard a NOAA ship. The computer engineer for the Pisces directs the CTD instrument that is lowered into the water column. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature, and depth in the water column. The CTD also measures the changes in salinity (salt level) and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column. This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a computer engineer watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.
  • Mission: You are to build a CTD device and lower it into the water column along the coast of Cuba. You are to collect the water temperature of the water column. (The teacher will have available three different water temperatures that have been “taken” from the

water column for the temperature sensor to test:

warm water represents the top of the water column;

cool water represents the middle of the water column;

and ice cold water will represent the bottom of the ocean

floor.) Write a report of your findings and give the data of

the temperature at the top, middle and bottom of the

water column. Give temperatures in both Fahrenheit

and Celcius.


Robotics Engineer

  • The Robotics Engineer is the person who designs and programs robots to go deep within the ocean in order to collect data for the marine scientists.
  • Mission: Create “Scorpion” – a biometric invertebrate robot to traverse the bottom of the ocean looking for shipwrecks. The Scorpion should have a platform on the back of it in order to haul back its findings. In particular, look for Spanish Galleons loaded with gold doubloons or even the F-19 planes that were lost in the Bermuda Triangle. If located, use the light sensor biometric capability to look for identifying characteristics. (These characteristics should be large black bricks near the wrecks so the light sensor would know to stop because the Scorpion has found a wreck.) Bring the findings/wrecks back to the platform to take back to the surface for further study.

Marine Biologist

  • A Marine Biologist studies marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates. They often identify species such as the giant tortoise, marine iguanas, squid, and a variety of fish. A marine biologist also studies marine habitats.
  • Mission: You are to deploy the underwater video camera to study the fish on the coral reefs that are found in the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary (found in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico near the Texas border). The camera array has 4 sets of video cameras pointing in each direction. The camera arrays use lasers to estimate the length of the fish in the images. (View video of footage taken aboard Pisces to watch the red lasers “tag” fish.) This data helps marine biologists know the number and length of the fish and they can set the limit of fish that fishermen can catch.
  • Mission: You are to build a camera array using a light sensor and use it to count the “fish” that go by at the bottom of the sea. (Fish should be dark colored legos that are slid past the robot. When the light sensor detects a black “fish” the robot should beep.) Identify these species of fish and send in a report of how many fish and what kind of fish you see.

(Use legos to “build” fish such as squid, whales, MahiMahi, dolphin, red snapper, angel fish, amberjack, cobia, trigger fish, sucker fish, etc.)



  • Navigators pilot the ships, crew, and scientists to wherever ocean research needs to be done. Navigators will be able to find locations on navigational charts and know how to steam ahead to various locations around the world. Our ship is the Pisces, a modern oceanographic research ship that navigates the world’s oceans.
  • Mission: Create a robot that will be the ship, Pisces. The robot ship should steer over the navigational charts and go to three locations. Leave from Pascagoula, MS, and go southeast to Cuba to check the temperature in the water column. Then go west to the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary to do a Reef Survey. Then steam east back to home port in Pascagoula, MS. Be careful as you navigate through the Gulf Stream and Loop Currents.

Environmental Engineer

  • An Environmental Engineer tries to improve the environment (air, water, and/or land resources), to provide healthy water, air, and land for human habitation and for other organisms. Environmental engineers also try to remediate polluted sites.
  • Mission:Build a robot to go down 5, 280 feet in the Gulf of Mexico to inspect the well head of Deepwater Horizon. This robot, called “Tumbleweed,” should do reconnaissance and surveillance to make sure the well is not leaking. Have “Tumbleweed” leave the ship’s surface platform and travel to the well. Circle the well and then return to the ship.


  • The ocean encompasses about 70% of the Earth, and much of it is still undiscovered.  The job of the oceanographers will be to research the deep oceans using autonomous underwater vehicles and become shipwreck detectives. 
  • Mission: Build a robot called “Groundhog” that will go to the bottom of the ocean to locate and explore 6 underground caves. Each time “Groundhog” finds a cave, he will need to beep to let the Robotics Engineer onboard the Pisces know he has found a cave. The Cartologists will then mark the location on the navigational charts. These caves are all around the Gulf of Mexico.
Print out this Navigational Chart to “mark” the locations of the six underground caves found by Tumbleweed.