Oscar backed Stinky out of the sub. They spun the robot around, piloted it back to Luis at the edge of the pool, and looked at the judges, who stood in the control tent behind them.
"Can we make a little noise?" Cristian asked Pat Barrow, a NASA lab operations manager supervising the contest.
"Go on ahead," he replied.
Cristian started yelling, and all three ran out to hug Luis, who held the now-filled blue balloon. Luis stood there with a silly grin on his face while his friends danced around him.
It was a short celebration. They still had four more tasks. Luis attached Szwankowski's thermometer and quickly lowered the ROV back into the water.
Tom Swean was the gruff 58-year-old head of the Navy's Ocean Engineering and Marine Systems program. He developed million-dollar autonomous underwater robots for the SEALs at the Office of Naval Research. He was not used to dealing with Mexican-American teenagers sporting gold chains, fake diamond rings, and patchy, adolescent mustaches.
The Carl Hayden team stood nervously in front of him. He stared sullenly at them. This was the engineering review - professionals in underwater engineering evaluated all the ROVs, scored each team's technical documentation, and grilled students about their designs. The results counted for more than half of the total possible points in the contest.
"How'd you make the laser range finder work?" Swean growled. MIT had admitted earlier that a laser would have been the most accurate way to measure distance underwater, but they'd concluded that it would have been difficult to implement.
"We used a helium neon laser, captured its phase shift with a photo sensor, and manually corrected by 30 percent to account for the index of refraction," Cristian answered rapidly, keyed up on adrenaline. Cameron had peppered them with questions on the drive to Santa Barbara, and Cristian was ready.
Swean raised a bushy, graying eyebrow. He asked about motor speed, and Lorenzo sketched out their combination of controllers and spike relays. Oscar answered the question about signal interference in the tether by describing how they'd experimented with a 15-meter cable before jumping up to one that was 33 meters.
"You're very comfortable with the metric system," Swean observed.
"I grew up in Mexico, sir," Oscar said.
Swean nodded. He eyed their rudimentary flip chart.
"Why don't you have a PowerPoint display?" he asked.
"PowerPoint is a distraction," Cristian replied. "People use it when they don't know what to say."
"And you know what to say?"
In the lobby outside the review room, Cameron and Ledge waited anxiously for the kids. They expected them to come out shaken, but all four were smiling - convinced that they had answered Swean's questions perfectly. Cameron glanced nervously at Ledge. The kids were too confident. They couldn't have done that well.
Still, both teachers were in a good mood. They had learned that the team placed third out of 11 in the seven underwater exercises. Only MIT and Cape Fear Community College from North Carolina had done better. The overall winner would be determined by combining those results with the engineering interview and a review of each group's technical manual. Even if they did poorly on the interview, they were now positive that they hadn't placed last.