A Series of Missions

In WaterBotics, students engage in the engineering design process (EDP) to build and refine a remote-controlled underwater robot—also referred to as a remotely operated vehicle (ROV)—using LEGO® robotics kits and other materials. As students iteratively design they learn core science, engineering and technology concepts and practices.

Students are not required to have had any prior experience with robotics, engineering, or programming, However, those who do will still find much that is novel and unfamiliar. To accommodate learners with diverse backgrounds and experiences, the project unfolds gradually and in phases, giving them time to absorb the many new ideas and techniques. They take on a series of four missions, each of which builds on the previous one and increases in complexity. By the end of the last mission, students will have created a fully functional underwater robot.

Each mission presents a simulated scenario that is based on an actual, real-life application of underwater robotics:


Mission 1

Mission 1: Rescue!

Use a single motor to build a robot that can travel in a straight line—both forward and backward—on the surface of the water and save a drowning swimmer. Optimize gearing to improve speed and/or control.


Mission 2

Mission 2: Clean Up!

Use a second motor to enable steering and two-dimensional movement. Maneuver the robot on the surface of the water to clean up a spill of hazardous pollutants.


Mission 3

Mission 3: Mine Sweep!

Use a third motor to dive under the water. Combine high-density and low-density materials to achieve good buoyancy and stability, making the robot controllable underwater. Detonate or disable underwater “mines” to make a shipping lane safe.


Mission 4

Mission 4: Collect!

Combine the products of previous missions to produce a vehicle that can collect samples from a sunken ship and deposit them in various underwater collection bins. A fourth motor may be used to create a mechanism to grab and release the balls.


These mission contexts may be customized by each organization that runs the project to reflect a theme of their choosing.

Within each mission, students are guided through a complete design cycle, with a strong emphasis on testing and redesign. Time is built into the WaterBotics instructional design to allow and encourage numerous test-evaluate-redesign loops within each mission. This tends to result in well-built and reliable robots. Furthermore, rigorous testing helps students to overcome their fear of failure, since it is an expected part of the process and ultimately results in better robots.

At the end of each mission, a showcase is held in which students show off their ROVs. This helps focus the students on a concrete milestone, gets them interested in what their peers are doing, and adds an element of excitement to the project.