AKRON — Robots have always been part of the entertainment industry’s futuristic vision. From the science fiction television show “Lost in Space” in the 1960s and the animated sitcom “The Jetsons” from the same era, Hollywood always anticipated the idea of robots as becoming an integral part of everyday human life.
Fast forward more than half a century later, and robots do have a prominent role in the world. No, not everyone has a mechanical maid or personal assistant, but to be certain, robots are important in the world of manufacturing and industry. Although robots aren’t as glamorous as some might have predicted 20 years into the 21st century, they do have an important role in society.
In an attempt to develop the next generation of human engineers of robots and artificial intelligence, many schools have begun offering classes and programs in robotics. The popularity of robotics programs in schools beginning as early as at the elementary level has exploded exponentially in the past few years. In some schools, students have to apply and compete to be part of the robotics team, just as they would to play basketball or other competitive sports.
This year, for the first time, Tippecanoe Valley High School entered the robotics arena, choosing the popular VEX Robotics program as their platform. For their inaugural competition, the team traveled to Wawasee High School in Syracuse Saturday, Jan. 26. Four weeks later, Saturday, Feb. 23, the team packed up their equipment and headed to Indianapolis to compete at Park Tudor School in their second state qualifying event.
“The VEX Robotics competition, or VRC game, changes every year and is designed for seventh to 12th grade students,” noted the team’s coach, Jennifer Roden. “To compete, students must design, build and program a robot to complete the tasks given in the year’s game description. This year VRC’s game was called Turning Point where robots can be programmed to launch balls at targets, flip discs, place discs on posts or obtain a parking space on the field’s podium.”
The TVHS robotics team designed, built and programed a robot in one month after they received a new VEX V5 microcontroller and parts leading into their first competition. Despite this abridged timeline, the team’s robot was able to flip discs with a claw that could lift and spin the discs about 11 inches off the ground. Additionally, the robot was able to park on the top podium. After a morning of seven qualifying matches at the Wawasee competition, the TVHS team became alliance captains for the 16th alliance. By making it through alliance selections, the team was able to compete in the single elimination bracket matches that occur in the afternoon. While they were defeated in their first elimination by the highest rank team, the experience was exciting and enjoyable for the students.
At the second competition, the team developed strategies for selecting team alignment and coordination among the other competing schools. This time, they became captains of the seventh ranked alliance as they headed into the final elimination matches, but lost again in the first round of single elimination final matches. The team valued their time competing and further developing their VRC skills.
Recently, the team received their second V5 microcontroller and parts based on a Girl Powered grant sponsored through VEX. They are continuing to practice designing, building and programing in order to prepare for their next competition which will be announced in April at the VEX Worlds tournament in Louisville.
Any interested community members who would like volunteer to help the team with their engineering or program experience, or who would like more information about this program, should contact Roden at [email protected] Any interested TVHS students who would like to join the team also is invited to join the team.