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Bully about 'The Bullshark': Beltrami County Fair also features 4-H projects under water

MOLLY MIRON SPECIAL TO THE PIONEER From left are 4-H Team Aqua Discovery members - Hunter Bolte, Ryan Speck, Nickhil Gupta and Star Bolte - with their experimental robot, "The Bullshark."

BEMIDJI — From the bustling commercial building featuring businesses, home arts and horticultural interests to Machinery Hill and dog shows, the Beltrami County Fair provides education and entertainment for a wide swath of visitor interest.

Of course, the livestock barns are major draws, but some of the specialties offered prove the county fair doesn’t just show off cows, crops and farm kids’ projects.

A case in point is the RoboShack, home to the 4-H Team Aqua Discovery and their current project, “The Bullshark.”

Team Aqua Discovery started in 2011 when Brandon Speck took an interest in robotics and called the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with a question about tying his inventive curiosity to water testing. He and other members of the team developed a small submersible prototype. The prototype robot offers RoboShack visitors the opportunity to explore the barren bottoms and sides of stock tanks — basically exercises in remote control coordination. But it’s the prototype’s experimental big brother, “The Bullshark, now under construction that they are really excited about. Team members hope to test it in an actual lake before freeze-up this fall.

“The thing will be able to dive up to 50 feet using trolling motors for propulsion,” said Tom Limbrick, one of Team Aqua Discovery’s leaders.

Nickhil Gupta, one of the 4-H members designing “The Bullshark,” said the device will feature four trolling motors — two for down-up and two for forward-backward steering. It will also have cameras to provide real-time coverage of the submersible’s travels so the operators controlling the machine from a boat aren’t flying blind. “The Bullshark” will also dive with running lights.

“We’re going to have a small control box with joy sticks, probably,” Gupta.

Limbrick said the project challenges the 4-Hers to use their ingenuity to build the robot from scratch.

In addition to the control issues, “The Bullshark” will have a 3-foot tube mounted on the bottom for sampling lake sediments. The tube will contain an “eggshell catcher,” which will open as it descends into the mud and closes on its findings as it rises.

“We’re dreaming big, but how else are they kids going to learn?” said Limbrick.

Colleen Speck, co-leader of 4-H Team Aqua Discovery, said members of robotics clubs from three other 4-H areas will travel to Bemidji next week to see the local club members’ project and share ideas. She said robotics enthusiasts and designers from the University of Minnesota have also expressed interest in visiting Team Aqua Discovery.

“It just has grown. It’s exciting,” she said.

“We’re getting a lot of support from the community,” said Star Bolte, a club member.

Colleen Speck said her son never knew he had an interest in engineering as a potential career until he began working with robots. Now, he will start next month at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids with plans to transfer to the engineering program at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Current members of the team also have expressed interest in engineering careers, except for Star Bolte, who wants to study nursing. Ryan Speck said he wants to study electrical and mechanical engineering. Hunter Bolte said he will be going for aero space engineering.

“I want to be a computer engineer so I can do everything — software and hardware,” Gupta.

Article written by Molly Miron as special to the Bemidji Pioneer