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Pontoon Explorers: Playful Ocean Engineering for Young Learners




MAS: Media Arts and Sciences

Faculty Supervisor:

Joseph Paradiso

Faculty email:


Apply by:



Avery Normandin: ave@media.mit.edu

Project Description

The Open Ocean Initiative at MIT Media Lab, in partnership with MIT Sea Grant, seeks an undergraduate researcher to pioneer the development of the Pontoon Explorer: a project that combines robotics, creative & hands-on learning, and ocean engineering approaches into a playground of project-based learning and community-driven science for budding engineers and explorers. The UROP student will work in close collaboration with engineering and learning experts to design and prototype an instructables kit and curriculum used for a low-cost, remote-controlled fleet of vessels controlled using hobbyist parts, arduinos, and the BBC micro:bit controller. The Pontoon Explorers will be deployed as part of National Geographic’s Student Expeditions in July 2020, which brings high school learners from across the globe to MIT’s campus to gain hands-on experience in engineering and open exploration. The UROP student will have the opportunity to facilitate this workshop as part of the position. In addition to the NatGeo Student Expeditions, the UROP student will also prepare two vehicles for the Cambridge Science Festival in April for two outreach events: the Science Carnival and the Robot Zoo. Beyond these outreach deployments, primary objectives for the spring UROP positions are to: 1) develop the arduino motor controller and remote control and its code and 2) develop several modes of functional and maneuverable capabilities of the Pontoon Explorer using BBC’s micro:bit and Microsoft MakeCode. To achieve this we propose 1 UROP for this project with a high degree of coordination with advisors, Dr. Tom Consi from MIT Sea Grant and Avery Normandin from MIT Media Lab. There will be additional opportunities to be mentored by MIT upperclassmen working at MIT Sea Grant. We encourage first-year students to apply who are planning to declare 2 or 2-OE. The undergraduate researcher will: // Work 10 hours per week at the MIT Sea Grant teaching lab // Meet weekly with the project coordinator from MIT Media Lab and Dr. Tom Consi from MIT Sea Grant to discuss research updates, goals, and development opportunities // Design, develop, and test pontoon boat motor and controls using arduino // With advisors, plan outcomes for the pontoon boat maneuverability and functions that would mimic real use-cases of field operations completed by research vessels in oceanography // Design, develop and test micro:bit functionality and write MakeCode scripts for these functions // Document UROP work through photos and instructables-style documentation Play and design with different boat hull designs constructed out of found and hardware store parts


First-year students in course 2-OE, 2, or 6 preferred; preference will be given to applicants with some experience or coursework in robotics, electrical and mechanical engineering, coding, and fabrication; experience with Arduino IDE / BBC micro:bit a plus! Bonus Prerequisites: Courses 2.00, 2.00A, 2.000, 2.017[J]/1.015[J]; programming (Scratch, MakeCode, C Sharp, Python)