HHS students design, build own robot to take on world


April 02, 2008 at 11:40 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

The robots pushed 44-inch balls around a huge track to get points during the Bayou Regional Competitions.
The robots pushed 44-inch balls around a huge track to get points during the Bayou Regional Competitions.
Though it may have seemed out of the question even five years ago, several students at Hahnville High School got the chance to battle other schools from around the country with a robot they created in only five weeks.

Those Hahnville students joined 46 other schools in competing at the Bayou Regional FIRST Robotics Competitions, held in New Orleans. Similar competitions are held all over the world.

This year, Hahnville was able to take part in all of the events. Last year, the team made it all the way to the semi-finals.

FIRST is a unique "sporting" competition that immerses students in the world of engineering. The teams, along with their mentors, work for five weeks to build a robot using only a standard kit of parts. The teams then take their robots to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and battle it out with other schools.

"What makes it so cool is that every team gets the kit at the same time and everyone has five weeks to send in their robot," Hahnville team sponsor Laura Theriot  said. "We had roughly 30 kids that took part in building the robot in one way or another."

The kit doesn't come with directions, and Theriot said that when her team received their kit, the realization of how hard it would be to construct a robot set in.

"The kids were pretty disappointed when they didn't see any directions with the kit," Theriot said with a laugh. "The kit is pretty much just nuts, bolts and metal and they have to construct a robot from that."

The team can't just make any robot either. It has to be one that will be able to excel in whatever game is picked for that year.

Last year, the robots had to compete on a course that consisted of a middle rack that had eight arms. The team's robots had to pick up a tube and place it on the arms. This year, a huge track with an overpass awaited the students. The robots had to bring a 44-inch ball around the track to get points, and could also get extra points by getting their robots to lay the ball on the overpass.

"Some robots are able to pick up the ball, while other teams make their robots really fast so that they can travel around the track the best," Theriot said.

That some robots perform better at certain tasks than others is one of the things that makes the competition so unique. Every team builds their robot to perform well at each of the different tasks because they have to team up with two other groups throughout the competition. It teaches teams a lot about teamwork while also helping them work out the best ways to solve problems.

"This is just so great in helping the students think about different ways to solve problems," Theriot said. "Take the robot's bumpers for example. Every robot has to have bumpers for when it bumps into the track or other robots.

"The question is, how do you go about constructing those bumpers and what do you make the bumpers out of? There were a lot of teams out there and they all had robots that looked completely different."

It also allows the students to be creative in different ways.

"There is just so much that has to be done and everyone gets to contribute in their own way," Theriot said. "I mean, there is computer programming, website design and team promotion by making t-shirts and pins. The list just goes on and on."

But the engineering part of the competition has really made an impact on the students.

"I have a senior on the team who, after going through the program, told me he is going to major in mechanical engineering," Theriot said. "We also have four kids that are going to take the engineering program at the Satellite Center.

“That's what makes this so valuable, it gives students experience with something that they otherwise would not have gotten the chance to do."

And the students are getting the opportunity to compete in a real sporting event.

"Last year, the kids were nervous because they didn't know how their robot would hold up," Theriot said. "They just loved it though and it was amazing to see the kids get so excited. They set this up like an athletic competition, so it gives academic and intellectual students the opportunity to get the experience of taking part in a sporting event."




View other articles written By Jonathan Menard

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