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Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 1:14pm

Ga. Students Building Oil Cleanup Machine

Members of Kell High School's robotics team are using a $10,000 grant to build a machine that could aid in the cleanup of oil spills.

Carlie Schulter, a junior at the Cobb County school and program manager for the group called InvenTeam, explained that the robotics team had already built a remotely operated vehicle to pick up trash in water.

While the team was working on improvements to the vehicle, the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurred, Schulter said. "And we starting thinking, 'OK, they have all of these large ships going out in the open water, but what's going to happen to those estuaries that get contaminated with oil?' So we were thinking, 'OK, instead of picking up trash, we can pick up oil,'" Schulter said.

About that time, the robotics team was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program to form InvenTeam. InvenTeam's lead engineer, Alex Epstein, 17, a senior, said he was using computer programs to design components for the vehicle. He said the team received samples of material to try for the conveyor belt from a partner in a previous robotics competition, the Gates Corporation.

Schulter, 17, said the top structure on the robot will house a GPS system, a camera and electrical equipment to help power the robot, as well as solar panels to recharge its batteries. The robot will move through the water on a pair of treads.

The InvenTeam plans to test the robot at Atlanta's Piedmont Park on Earth Day April 22. The machine will be about 4 feet wide, 9 feet long and 4 feet tall.

The students were chosen as one of 14 teams nationally taking part in the program. They will present the robot this summer at Eureka Fest at MIT's Cambridge, Mass., campus.