Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iowa: CHS students have eyes on robot prize

From Clinton Herald: CHS students have eyes on robot prize
CLINTON — Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics were a simple, yet deceptively effective means of ensuring that humanity would be served by mechanical automatons, rather than be overtaken and enslaved.

Ted Lamb’s laws of robotics are designed to help put a racquetball in a milk crate.

Lamb, a teacher at Clinton High School, and a dedicated team of student engineering enthusiasts have spent much of the school year perfecting their robot in preparation for the First Tech challenge. This is the second year the CHS Robotics team has competed in the national challenge, and this time the participants feel that they have a contender.

“We’ve seen some of our flaws and stuff, (and) we’ve revamped this robot,” Lamb said. “We’re looking at making a strong showing at state.”

First Tech challenge robots are tasked with manipulating racquetballs and milk crates, and lifting them high in the air. After finishing fourth in a qualifying match against other high school robotics teams earlier this year, the CHS team will compete in the state competition this Friday and Saturday at the University of Iowa. If they do well enough there, the team could earn a ticket to the national competition in St. Louis this April.

But first things first. The qualifying matchup was brutal, and with state only days away, the team must stay focused.

“We’re looking at it one match at a time,” Lamb said.

The robot was built using parts supplied by First Tech. The team received three boxes of metal girders, wires and other electronics, and was tasked with assembling them into a functional robot. The robot is operated by the team via remote control, using a programmed PC game controller. The robot’s task is simple, but building it was not. The construction process involved a lot of trial and error, according to team members.

“We started with brainstorming, just laying down all the ideas,” said Michael Espey, a CHS senior. “Our first couple of designs really didn’t work at all. Then we had some trouble, actually a lot of trouble, with the gears.”

Sometimes the realization that an idea would not work would not come until after the legwork was completed.

“(It’s frustrating) when you spend six hours working on something and then you have to tear it down,” Espey said.

The team is required to keep detailed notes, and document every step in their process. This information is compiled in an “engineer’s notebook,” which will factor into the judging process.

Clinton High’s involvement with the contest began last year, when Lamb was searching for activities to occupy the time of the newly formed engineering club. Initially intended to be a fun diversion, Lamb said the contest is so time-consuming that it has become the primary focus of the club.

“It pretty much consumes the year,” Lamb said.

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