Fifth year of international competition for AMNO & CO underwater-robotics team

June 23, 2016 10:38 am
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 |   West Seattle news | West Seattle people

(WSB photos by Torin Record-Sand, taken June 15 at Evergreen Aquatic Center)

It’s a big year for the three local students collectively known as the underwater-robotics team AMNO & CO. In April, we mentioned their by-invitation appearance at the White House Science Fair. Starting today, the team is competing internationally again, this time in Houston. Our photos are from their last local practice – at Evergreen Aquatic Center in White Center – and this is their official news release:

In May, AMNO & CO ROV team qualified for the MATE international ROV competition in Houston, Texas. (Check out the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition at

For the three team members – Alex Miller, Clara Orndorff, and Nicholas Orndorff – this will be their fifth consecutive year at the international competition, and as always, the team with the fewest members. However, for the first time, the team will be competing in the Explorer (mostly college) class, a benefit from having won the Ranger (mostly high school) class at last year’s international event.

Ever since AMNO & CO began competing in MATE competitions seven years ago, it has been one of the team’s goals to participate at this level, since college teams bring a unique and elevated standard of innovation which pushes the boundaries of ROV technology.

(From left, Alex and Nicholas; Clara had already headed to Houston)

ROVs are extremely valuable for accomplishing tasks in environments which would otherwise be inaccessible to humans due to depth, chemical hazards, temperature conditions, and other risk factors. This year’s tasks require teams to build a vehicle which can function reliably in both Gulf Coast oil waters as well as under the ice sheet of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Teams have to design and build a vehicle to access CubeSats (miniature satellites), secure wellhead components, take sensor measurements, and assess the general condition of the environment in Europa. In doing these tasks, AMNO & CO will be competing against the qualifying teams from countries that include the USA, Canada, Egypt, China, Hong Kong, Scotland, Russia and several others.

While MATE’s tasks require teams to execute a set of specific mission objectives in a tank, communication is also emphasized in the competition, so teams have to write a technical report, create a poster, and deliver an engineering presentation, much in the way that members of a real company would.

In Houston, AMNO & CO will compete in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a 40-foot-deep test tank that houses a full-scale mockup of the International Space Station designed for astronauts to practice space walks before executing them in real life. This facility creates a unique challenge, because it requires teams to operate in a depth much greater than an ordinary swimming pool (where most teams including AMNO & CO practice), simulating the effect of operating in an unknown environment such as Europa.

In addition to competing and fundraising for the MATE competition, AMNO & CO seeks to instill their passion for engineering in others. For instance, they gave a special presentation in the Seattle Aquarium’s Window on Washington Waters tank, piloting their ROV for an eager audience of spectators, and showing close up views of genial rockfish and gorgeous anemones. Also, team member Alex Miller mentored the Junior Huskies, an ROV team of West Seattle students at Washington Middle School, who, through their exceptional teamwork, problem solving and intellectual curiosity won the Scout (middle school) class at the MATE Pacific Northwest Regional Competition at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatics Center.

In addition, during Spring Break, AMNO & CO was surprised and honored to have the opportunity to participate in the White House Science Fair, where they got to demonstrate their vehicle to many interested scientists and celebrities, meet other students with fascinating projects, and shake hands with President Obama.

This year’s international competition will be held June 23-26. For more information about the competition, please contact Jill Zande at For more information about AMNO & CO, please visit or contact them at


Here’s our report on AMNO & CO’s victory last year. We first reported on the team in 2012; Nicholas and Alex are now 17, and Clara is 19. Good luck to them in Houston!

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