DHS students’ creations are prime attraction at Pelicans games

Destrehan Robotics team members show off the Peli-Pult, one of their creations that is making a big impression on Pelicans fans.

While the New Orleans Pelicans are one of the NBA’s top shooting teams this season, the most accurate shooter fans will find in the Smoothie King Center isn’t one of their players, nor any from the opposition.

It’s the Peli-Pult — a creation of the Destrehan High School robotics team.

Through a catapult mechanism, the device shoots basketballs at a hoop also constructed by the team, and though its percentage isn’t perfect this season, when it’s rolling, it can get pretty darned close.

“It’s more accurate than the average person … certainly more than any of us,” said DHS team member Aidan Oddlokken. “We’ve been having so much fun with demonstrating it. It’s exciting and fresh.”

Destrehan teacher Brian Young, who heads the program and has coached his team to multiple appearances at the Robotics World Championships, said when the Peli-Pult is in a groove, it’ll regularly sink eight or nine out of 10 shots.

“It’s got a rim like the arcade basketball games you’ll see,” Young said. “We maybe tweak it once a night when we’re up there, to calibrate it. With basketball there’s not much room for error. It was built all in house.”

The device is shot after the push of a button, which has made it interactive for fans as well.

“The kids love it … they feel like they just made the shot themselves,” Young said.

It came to be after the birth of a working relationship between the Destrehan program and the Pelicans franchise at the outset of the season. A designer who does work for the Smoothie King Center and Chevron reached out to Young to request assistance with the completion of the newly-established and Chevron-sponsored STEM Zone at the arena. Young and his team members brought some of their creations for demonstration for the team’s home opener, and then they were invited back for two more early season games.

That’s when he was asked if the team could build a robotic shooter for the franchise.

“It had to be within a certain height, length and width, and we had to settle things like if it breaks, who’s gonna fix it? We agreed that we’re gonna do whatever we had to do to win them over,” Young said, noting DHS robotics team members have been at close to 80 percent of home games thus far while working with the program.

“They wanted it for a certain game a month into the season, and we had to either build it within a week, or tell them no, but we could for a later game,” Young said. “We decided we wanted to make it work and get it done for that game they designated.”

Team member Daniel Floyd said the team worked on the project early mornings and after school, doing what it took to get it done.

“We’d get out of school at 2:20 and go until maybe 8 … it’s basically what we’d do during our build (competitive) season,” Floyd said. “When we saw that first shot go in, that was magical. It’s incredible when you spend so much time on something and it clicks, it works. We knew (the Pelicans) were such a big organization and we couldn’t mess up. They were counting on us and if we mess it up, there wouldn’t be another chance.”

“We don’t get any money for this…but how many people can say they’ve built something for a professional NBA team?”- Brian Young

While perhaps the most attention grabbing element, the robo-shooter is far from the lone robotics attraction at many of the home games these days. Team members have been arriving to games two hours before tip-off to get the catapult ready, but also to do STEM outreach and promotion at the STEM Zone prior to tip off.

“We don’t get money for this … but how many people can say they’ve built something for a professional  NBA team?” Young asked. “And it’s a chance to reach so many people. Thousands of people come through there each night.”

A 3D printer and animatronics that can be controlled by interested game-goers are among the attractions.

One of which, a “hexapod,” has six legs and looks almost like a real spider — one that does dance moves and draws plenty of youngsters into the area.

“I know I love to see them come by and interact with stuff,” said team member Rebekah Fortes. “We let them drive it, we want to show as much as we can. When someone comes by and says, ‘hey, that’s really cool,’ it makes my day and it’s really why I do it.”

The robotics team also had the opportunity to shoot a commercial with Pelicans guard Frank Jackson that will be played at the arena at halftime of Pelicans games.

Team member Clay James said Jackson hung out and showed genuine interest, which he said was uplifting for the team.

Like Fortes, he said the chance to inspire people to pursue interest in science and technology is quite rewarding.

“Seeing the spark go off for them and them consider what they could possibly do, or come through a second time and see what we’ve tweaked and changed things, it’s pretty awesome,” James said.

The Destrehan Robotics team was established by Young 11 years ago. The partnership with the Pelicans is the first for any NBA team or FIRST Robotics team.

Destrehan Robotics

  • Built the basketball-launching “Peli-Pult” featured at games before tip-off.
  • Do STEM outreach and promotion at the Smoothie King Center before games.
  • Team members shot a commercial with Pelicans guard Frank Jackson to showcase the Robotics team’s role with the Chevron STEM Zone.
  • Partnership with Pelicans is a first for any NBA team or FIRST Robotics team.
  • Program was established by current team coach Brian Young, a DHS alumnus, 11 years ago.

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