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MESA Students Win Top Honors at Robotic Sailing Regatta - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

MESA Students Win Top Honors at Robotic Sailing Regatta

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Some recent high school graduates are already sailing off to new horizons, and a handful of science whiz kids from Albemarle High School's Math Engineering and Science Academy (MESA) are leaving behind a pretty large wake. 

Last week, a five-person team of robotics engineers and programmers from Albemarle competed at the International Robotics Sailing Regatta in Gloucester, Mass. They built a high-tech autonomous sailing vessel for the competition, which they call WHIFF (We Hope It Freaking Floats). 

WHIFF relies on GPS, weather data, and a variety of instruments to guide herself from point A to point B without human assistance. 

"So basically she's a robot that can sail herself," said MESA graduate Elizabeth Hillstrom. 

The group did extremely well in their first robotic sailing competition, taking home first place in all autonomous events and first in their division. They credit their experience in robotics design and programming. 

"A lot of the other teams had a lot of sailing experience, but not a lot of robotics experience," Hillstrom said. "It's been a pretty successful project." 

The students are moving on to continue their studies at universities here in the commonwealth and as far away as M.I.T. and Stanford. But they know their afterschool project could soon become much more.

"Their goal is to have larger autonomous sailing vehicles and other aquatic vehicles, possibly for shipping or transportation," Hillstrom said.

"There are practical applications to programming, much beyond the classroom," MESA graduate Simanta Gautam said." 

This year was the MESA program's first graduating class, but the 44 graduates took home more than just diplomas. MESA students netted more than $1 million in scholarships, more than the rest of Albemarle's 417 graduates combined. 

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