Members of the Wright City High School Robotics Club are heading to compete in their regional tournament on Saturday, and they’re setting their sights high. The top five out of 30 teams in that …
Members of the Wright City High School Robotics Club are heading to compete in their regional tournament on Saturday, and they’re setting their sights high. The top five out of 30 teams in that tournament will get to compete at the state level.
The robotics club is a small student organization at the high school, whose members design, build, and program a small, semi-autonomous robot. The club competes in a series of competitive events that change their rules and objectives every year in order to require construction of completely new robots.
This year’s team consists entirely of five sophomore students after several seniors graduated last year. The team is also coming back from some tough performance setbacks last year. But because of those difficulties, this year’s team has done a lot of learning and came in motivated to make a robot that propelled them through their early competitive matches in December in January.
“We’ve done pretty well so far,” said club member Luke Gens. “I think we’re going to do fairly well (this weekend).”
He said he's optimistic because the club had been able to overcome several design and performance challenges for the competition that other teams seem to be struggling with.
Carlee Grueneberg, another club member, explained that the robotics competition includes a number of bonus challenges that add to a team’s score, and that the club’s strategy was to make a versatile machine which could collect as many extra points as possible.
This year’s robotics competition required each team to build a robot capable of manipulating small cones and placing them on poles or positions within a limited competition area, where other teams’ robots are also operating. And additional constraints mean the students have to be extra clever in how they design the robot.
The entire machine has to start out no larger than 18 inches wide, tall and long. But that’s shorter than several of the competition poles, meaning the robot needs to have a way to extend and lift the cones.
Plus, the competitions have multiple phases, and the first phase is entirely autonomous. That means the team has to program their robot to perform entirely on its own to accomplish a specific task.
The robot they built to accomplish these tasks consists of a basic metal frame housing a control unit and motors, with a multi-tier lifting mechanism and grabbing claw on the front. The wheels are specially ordered pieces that allow the robot to move left and right without turning, just as easily as it moves forward and back.
To have a working robot, the students have to create a design, get it built, and program it, starting with basic parts and computer programs. To do this well, the students tend to adopt certain roles, with some working on the programming while others manage the physical construction.
Throughout the multi-month creation process and into the competitions, one of the most important lessons the students have learned is how to be effective communicators, noted Luke Gens.
“If nobody is talking to each other, it’s really hard to actually get a feel for what went wrong and what we can improve on,” Gens commented.
Carlee Grueneberg commented that a hard lesson for her has been learning how to recover from making mistakes without being embarrassed.
The Wright City Robotics Club is assisted by adult mentor Steve Brohammer and faculty sponsor Hannah Pohl. They said they’ve been proud to see how far this group of sophomores has come since joining the club either this year or last year.
However, the mentors said their club faces some challenges that are out of the students’ control, and those challenges primarily come down to money.
Brohammer, who helps students with design and construction, explained that within certain parameters, clubs are free to purchase a wide variety of parts for their robots. But the Wright City club’s limited funding limits what they can actually build. That leads to some shortcomings, like not being able to reach the tallest poles in this year’s competition, Brohammer said.
And limited funding also restricts the team’s competitive opportunities, Pohl added. Each meet they attend requires an entrance fee, and teams have the option to compete in more than the default number of meets. Competing in more meets helps improve a team’s ranking.
And besides that, Pohl said she’d like the team to have more chances to compete so they can learn and mature.
“They all actively support and help each other. Even if we have a bad round ... they do a good job of stopping, and evaluating what they need to do better as a team,” Pohl said.
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