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NASA grant helps Mizzou SURF prep for competition

Students stand around and discuss improvements to their sub, which is in between them all.

Currently, SURF is working toward prepping its autonomous underwater vehicle for competition this summer. Photos by Sam O’Keefe.

Student organizations and competition teams are among the best ways for Mizzou Engineering undergraduates to get hands-on engineering experience. For those interested in robotics, Mizzou SURF (Students Underwater Robotics Foundation) is one avenue for them to get their feet wet, both literally and figuratively.

The nascent org is in its second year of building its submarine robots, known as autonomous underwater vehicles or AUVs. And a $10,000 grant from the NASA-Missouri Space Grant Consortium (MOSGC) has helped them not only gain their footing but thrive as they head toward the year’s biggest competition — the 2019 International RoboSub Competition this summer in San Diego.

Students crowd around a laptop.

In their brief existence, Mizzou SURF has mentored local grade school students, participated in a variety of competitions and won Best New Student Organization at the 2018 MU Chancellor’s Excellence Awards.

The MOSGC’s goal is to grow the pool of capable engineers and scientists in aerospace and space-related fields, and SURF’s mission matched that vision.

“Outside of internships and getting experience in a company, it’s one of the best opportunities we get to experience applying what we learn in school,” said Mizzou SURF President James Kane. “That’s one of our main goals, and this grant greatly improved our ability to do that.”

In their brief existence, Mizzou SURF has mentored local grade school students, participated in a variety of competitions and won Best New Student Organization at the 2018 MU Chancellor’s Excellence Awards. Kane said the funding was critical in getting the group going.

“With any company or organization, startup costs are way more than operating costs,” Kane explained. “A big infusion of funds greatly helped us on top of what the College and the organization provide.”

Currently, they’re working toward prepping their AUV for competition this summer. The International RoboSub Competition is hosted by RoboNation, a nonprofit focused on providing innovative hands-on opportunities for students. The competition is made up of student teams from middle school through college and attracts some of the world’s top young robotics talent.

“The funding is helpful because it allows us to purchase supplies and the tools that we need. There’s a lot of stuff subs need that you’re not going to find in any machine shop,” Kane said.

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