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WITH JUST A FLICK OF THE (MECHANICAL) WRIST
SoVaNow.com / February 20, 2013And for his next feat of engineering excellence, Skrappy the Robot will … fling Frisbees?
Skrappy 10, the next generation creation of the Bluestone High School Robotics Team, is practicing his Frisbee toss in preparation for the March 14-16 FIRST Competition at Dorton Arena at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C. The annual event — FIRST is an abbreviation of “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”— will bring together robots from around the world to see which mechanical marvel can shoot the most Frisbees into a goal.
The game, called “Ultimate Ascent,” includes a challenge whereby Skrappy and fellow competitor-bots must climb metal scaffolding using only their robotic arms.
Skrappy 10 is the name given to the tenth generation, three-foot tall robot that the Bluestone students have designed and assembled over the past six weeks, with the help of faculty and community volunteers.
Bluestone robotics advisors are Betsy West and Tracey Ellis. Team mentors include two retired nuclear submarine captains, Leonard Passmore and Dick Fields; Bill Wilson, who is a programmer and engineer with Longwood University; David Lowman, an electrical facilities specialist with Microsoft; and Russ Messier, a retired materials scientist.
Each of the mentors works with the students in areas of special interest, from the building of the robot skeleton to the programming and testing of the software. Throughout the process, students are shown how to create or assemble various components, such as programmable radio controllers, motors, electrical circuitry, and mechanical parts.
Following the six-week design and build phase, teams enter one of 77 regional or district competitions. For Bluestone, the competition is the North Carolina regional tournament held at the Raleigh fairgrounds in March.
Jacob Lowman, a ninth grader who is on the robotics team for the first time, says the work is fun. He said he has learned a lot and is even thinking about going into the field of robotics in the future.
The most difficult aspect of the competition, according to the lead computer operator David Overton, is accuracy of the Frisbee tosses. On a snowy Saturday, he and several members of the team and their mentors were at Bluestone working on that very skill one last time before they box up Skrappy and ship him to Dorton Arena for the competition.
Tenth grader Zachary Harper and Overton alternately put Skrappy through its paces. Earlier in the process, Harper was a member of the electrical components build group.
Not every member of the team is involved in the design or build of the robot. As part of the competition, students are also challenged to raise funds, and design and market a team “brand.” Senior Forrest Goodwin heads the team’s marketing and design group. He hopes to lead the team to victory in the category of team spirit.
The FIRST robotics competition bills itself as “the premier engineering challenge for high school students between the ages of 14 and 18.” Winners qualify for nearly $16 million in college scholarships.
Last year, some 1,200 students from 15 states and Europe participated in regional competitions. Though Bluestone’s robot was chosen to participate in the finals, it did not emerge victorious. The team finished in eighth place.
The students think their chances of winning the competition this year are good. They encourage everyone in the area to come to the Dorton Arena on Saturday, March 15 or Sunday, March 16 to watch them compete. Winners at the event will move on to the championship event, which takes place this year April 24-27 in St. Louis, Mo.
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