Students from across the globe converged on the University of Hawaii at Hilo last week to test their abilities to build and pilot remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) at the ninth annual Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center's 2010 International ROV Competition. A team from Russia's Institute of Marine Technology Problems in Vladivostok took first place in the advanced "Explorer" division, while North Carolina's First Flight High School in Kill Devil Hills topped the intermediate "Ranger" division.

The ROV competition required middle school, high school and college students to design, build and operate ROVs on a simulated mission. This year's assignment, which took place in a U.H. swimming pool, was to take sensor readings, plot data and collect samples of geologic features and organisms in an area designed to resemble the Loihi undersea volcano.

ROV technology has been at the center of attempts by BP to shut down its Macondo oil well, which has been leaking 9.5 million liters into the Gulf of Mexico daily for more than two months. The oil and gas industry will only come to rely on ROVs more as companies drill in deep water where it's impossible for human divers to venture.

Teams from Long Beach City College (pictured above) in California and the Marine Institute and Faculty of Engineering of Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, took second and third place, respectively, behind the Russian team in the Explorer category. Newfoundland's Clarenville High School and California's Aptos High School placed behind First Flight High School in the Ranger division.

Of course, dozens of competitors hit the pool last week:

A Ranger–level team from Philadelphia's Overbrook High School heads from the pool deck after completing its mission run.

Explorer–level competitors from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (green shirts, facing camera) manage their vehicle's tether as the pilots (green shirts, backs to camera, partially obscured by sun barrier), navigate their vehicle through the mission tasks (watching video feed from monitor).

Honolulu's Kapiolani Community College Explorer team retrieves its ROV from the pool.

Pilots from Moanalua High School in Honolulu Ranger team celebrate the successful completion of a pool mission task.

ROV pilots from Arizona State University's Explorer team (seated) watch video feed from their vehicle's video camera as they maneuver their ROV.

All images courtesy of Steve Van Meter / VideoRay