Before the sunscreened bodies slipped into the cool water, robots roamed a pool at Adventure Island.
Six student teams from across Florida raced Saturday to make their homemade marine robots grab toy crabs, take temperature readings and pull small rocks off a pipe placed at the bottom of a 10-foot pool.
The winner will compete in international competition in San Diego.
The two local teams — King High School and Hillsborough Community College — faced off first.
The high school students had been scrambling minutes earlier, fixing a claw on their robot. They needed that remote-controlled claw to pick up the toy crabs.
"It was pretty frantic," team captain Tyler Owens, 17, said.
They fixed it with spare parts and lowered "Lionfish" into the water.
On the other side of the pool, the Hillsborough Community College students had some trouble. Their more expensive and complicated robot, "Fish Hawk," wasn't working.
Team captain Siva Beharry made the call to pull the robot out of the water. The compressor drew too much power. They should have had another outlet, he said.
Sometimes a simpler robot is better, HCC computer science instructor Richard Senker said.
"Keep it simple, because fewer components can break," he said.
That seemed to be the driving philosophy behind King's robot, which was made of PVC pipes, water noodles, a baking rack and propeller. Owens controlled it with a joystick on a black control box.
The college students' robot was bigger, connected with a thick bundle of cords in a rainbow of colors. Beharry controlled it with a computer.
Beharry's brother and teammate, Ary Beharry, said that while the complicated machine gave them trouble, it had taught them about the potential of remotely operated vehicles.
"It was definitely a learning experience," he said.
That's the goal of the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center's competition, judges said. Coordinator Erica Moulton encouraged the students to network with judges and officials, who work with robots.
"Ask him how you can get his job," she told the students, pointing to an Odyssey Marine Exploration employee.
King High School came back for the second round with a vengeance. The team completed the mission, collected all the items and took an accurate temperature reading.
"I'm pretty proud of how it all turned out," Owens said. He plans to attend the University of Florida next year to major in aerospace or nuclear engineering.
The King team placed third, while Edgewater High School from Orlando won. But Owens is quick to point out his team beat the college students.
"I feel good because we beat HCC by a lot," he said. "We're just a high school, and they're college students."
Though he won't be back next year, the team will be. King High School has grant money for more engineering projects. It'll use some of that money for next year's robot, physics teacher Steve Banister said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.