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Students gear up for robot competition

February 10, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

It's crunch time for members of Washington County Public Schools' first-ever robotics team.

The team is working diligently to create a machine that will outstack, outpush and outplay its inventive competitors in a regional contest next month.

The Washington County Technical High School-based team, comprised of 23 students and 16 advisory teachers and engineering and computer specialists, was sent a box in early January filled with the supplies needed to design a robot.

The team's robot needs to be completed, tested and boxed up and shipped out by Saturday, said Jim Groves, a team adviser and Washington County Technical High School teacher.

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Groves' printing room has served as the base for the robot factory since its inception. Small groups are scattered throughout the large room working on everything from programming the robot's controls and wiring its arms to stacking its shell.

The completed robot will be paired up with another school's robot to stack, push or pull as many boxes as possible into a designated zone in a game called "Stack Attack," which will be played at the Chesapeake Regional FIRST Robotics Competition March 13 to 15.

Joe Williams, 17, a Technical High School senior, said he was one of the first to sign up for the team, which was open to any high school student in the county.

Williams is excited about being a member of a team that defies the sports roles he's held in the past.

"In soccer, you all have to perform a common task - getting the ball to the goal," he said. "Here, you have to perform a bunch of different tasks to get it all in one place."

Williams was among a small group of students who surrounded the robot's freshly drilled metal base, watching as two teammates adjusted a brace for the battery.

Groves, who was observing nearby as the students worked, spoke up.

"I hate to burst your bubble, but that battery's going to be sitting on bolts if you leave it like that," he said.

The team readjusted the battery's position, which will help prolong the robot's life, Groves said.

Groves said he has urges to complete the project himself, but knows the students have to perform most of the troubleshooting themselves.

"There's a lot of trial and error," said Technical High School internship coordinator Steve Frame, who also is overseeing the project.

Frame said there are a few $5,000 to $10,000 scholarships attached to the project and students have been encouraged to apply for them.

Groves said the school system received an anonymous $5,000 donation for the entry fee to get a county school involved in the national competition.

Mack Trucks has been lending its engineers to coach students on the construction and design of the robot, said Patti Friend, communications manager for Mack Trucks.

"We have kids here that are good with their hands, are good at problem solving and are visual learners," Frame said.

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