Gadget goes to Annapolis

Students' robot to compete in capital

Students' robot to compete in capital

March 10, 2006|by KAREN HANNA


While their creation does not sit for finals or write term papers, one high school team is counting on a robot to bring success this spring.

The robotics team of Williamsport High School will travel to Annapolis next week to participate in the Chesapeake Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, which challenges students to design and build robots that can complete certain tasks.

"One thing I think the team has benefited is we've had students who if it wasn't for the team, they would not have finished school, they would not have graduated," teacher Jim Prelog said. "The team gave them a reason to be in school, and I think that's as important as anything."


Now in its third year, the team worked six weeks putting together a robot that can take on the competition in a kind of three-on-three basketball game.

"I like to work with my hands. I'm a hands-on person. I like to work with metals, woods, anything that can get me hurt," 15-year-old freshman Brandon Myers said.

Though the robot's name is registered on the competition's official Web site as KaTastrophy, a model redesigned from last year seemed capable of little damage during trial runs Thuesday.

According to information provided to the team by U.S. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), participants this year are expected to design robots that can shoot balls through hoops.

The machine students built this year has been shipped to the U.S. Naval Academy, where the competition takes place.

A rolling blue octagonal model of the robot whined Thursday as a camera searched out a special green light that illuminates the hoop. Nests of wires poked out from the frame.

The machine, which is being used for practice, has been reworked since last year's competition. It will be cannibalized for spare parts when the students leave for Annapolis.

"We're having a little trouble because the camera likes to focus on the window rather than the light," conceded Zachary Dwyer, a Washington County Technical High School graduate who has returned to Williamsport to help with the robot.

Each year's challenge is a little different, said Prelog, one of the team's adult mentors.

"The competition is crazy," Adria Moyer, 16, said. One of two team captains, the junior said she joined the team at the urging of her sister, Erin Moyer, 18, a graduate who is studying engineering at Virginia Polytechnic and State University. Their mother, Nancy Moyer, an electrical engineer, is an adult mentor.

According to, teams pay $6,000 to join the competition. The money for KaTastrophy's entry came from local business and organization sponsorships and parents, Nancy Moyer said.With the fee, they receive specifications about the year's particular challenge kits of parts they can use to build their robots. Teams may also spend up to $3,500 to buy additional parts, Prelog said.

Williamsport's team has spent about $1,200 for more parts, he said.

Sixteen team members and several adults will travel to Annapolis for the competition, Prelog said. According to U.S. FIRST, 64 teams will participate at the regional event Thursday through March 18 for the chance to move onto national competition in Atlanta.

Adria said the team always has named its robots after a K-cat-related theme. This year, work ended at 3 a.m., just before the deadline to ship the robot to Annapolis.

"I don't know, we just thought the whole thing this year was a catastrophe," said Adria, who expressed hope the machine could top last year's finish, when it reached the quarterfinals.

While Erin Moyer would build a tank if she could to take on the rest of the field, Zachary said his ideal robot would be a bit more self-sustaining than KaTastrophy.

"You know, we could always build a robot to build other robots for the competition," Zachary said.

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