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ASU robotics team member

Women’s Underwater Robotics Team makes a Splash

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Thanks to a partnership between ASU and Si Se Puede, an all-female group of engineering students from Arizona State University is working to program an autonomous underwater robot that they designed and 3-D printed. The Si Se Puede Foundation provides programs that strengthen communities through robotics clubs.

This all-female–led team at ASU Polytechnic is called Desert WAVE (Women in Autonomous Vehicle Engineering) and is making waves by being the second all-female underwater robotics team in the world.

Their hope is to have this self-driving submarine compete internationally in July of 2019. This technology will be used to detect underwater bombs, discover new deep-sea life, survey underwater wreckage and check the bottom of boats for fissures.

Maria Espinoza, a mechanical systems freshmen and member of the team is a U.S. Navy vet who worked on submarine hunters during her service enjoys the non-intimidating environment of Desert WAVE.

“We can’t really hide behind someone else if we get intimidated,” Espinoza said. “We don’t want to be wrong. Here, if we’re wrong, we’re OK because we’re all learning together. I think it’s going to help us become more confident.”

The program has also allowed women like Whitney Foster, an engineering freshman, to experiment with various aspects of engineering such as computer programming, electrical engineering and 3-D printing. “I like taking the part out of the printer. … I like the hands-on part. I can’t wait to actually put it together,” Foster said.

Vice president of STEM initiatives for Si Se Puede and WAVE team mentor, Faridodin “Fredi” Lajvardi, has been working with young engineers for quite some time. Throughout his career, he noticed that girls and women would excel in STEM when given equal opportunities; however, the opportunities were scarce.

According to the Society of Women Engineers, more than 32 percent of women in STEM degree programs either switch majors or stop pursuing a degree, and only 13 percent of working engineers are women.

The ASU and Si Se Puede partnership allowed Lajvardi to work with Daniel Frank, another mentor, to start Desert WAVE. “It gives them time to develop and grow so that hopefully … they’ll have the ability to navigate and hold their own in a male-dominated field,” Lajvardi said. “It’s an experiment.”

The WAVE team is looking forward to seeing how their robot performs during the July competition at the San Diego Naval Base. On those days, international teams will compete in a 16-foot deep testing pool mimicking the open ocean. The self-driving robots will have 20 minutes to shoot torpedoes at targets, pick up objects and follow acoustic sound indicators to find objects, all based on its autonomous programming.

Regardless of the outcome of the competition, the WAVE team knows they have done a great job not only as women, but as engineers. “It doesn’t matter who it is,” Foster said. “It’s all about who gets it done.”

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