Robot Wars: Como-Pickton team prep their hand-made robot for a showdown in Austin
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

(Left to right) Dakota Anglin, Alex Aguilar, Jan Elmore, and Laura Wilson make suggestions and observations which Ryan Sharp (at computer) translates into the program for their robot. The students worked after school this week to fine-tune the robot so that it will be ready for the double elimination competition Monday morning at the Texas Computer Education Association State Convention in Austin.
Staff photo

Feb. 2, 2006 -- Como-Pickton High School will be sending a robotics team Monday to the Texas Computer Education Association State Convention in Austin, where they will be demonstrating their design's effectiveness in a mock disaster situation.

This marks the second year C-P will have a team competing in this contest, which requires them to construct and program an autonomous robot using only one "Lego MindStorm robotics kit," which includes Lego pieces of various sizes and shapes, and the RCX brick "brain," and can add no no more than $5 worth of other "extra" materials.

Last year, the team — which included Aeron Green, Kaleb Mosley, Courtney Thompson and Wade Arnold — was required to retrieve ping pong balls. They made it four rounds before being eliminated

"We improved a lot over the year. When we started, we had never worked with a program. We'd never heard of it before. We learned a lot fast," said Mosley, who also participated in One Act Play and power lifting. 

"It was a really neat experience," said Green, who balanced the two to three days a week of  work on the robot around track, golf and cheerleading activities. "It's something we'd never done before. I think we did pretty well for the first time,"

Despite the fun they had, both Mosley and Green chose not to participate in the contest again this year. Instead, this year's team consists of four students new to the contest: freshmen Laura Wilson, Ryan Sharp and Dakota Anglin, and sophomore Alex Aguilar. 

They have been working on their robot for 1 1/2 hours after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays since October and are looking forward to the double elimination competition in Austin Monday morning.

This year's theme is "Aftermath: Disaster Recovery," and each team is tasked with designing a robot to rescue "survivors" and clear "debris"  from its 4-foot by 4-foot work area within the two minute time limit.

"[Alex] gave it the body and I gave it the brain," explained Sharp, referring to Aguilar's knowledge of techniques gained working on FFA projects, such as the agriculture trailer he will be showing in San Antonio in the near future. "The main thing is to try to find the right program, that it makes the right sweep and in the right number of seconds."

The students picked a program that challenged them not only to identify each picture which corresponds with a robot part, but also to determine what that part is connected to. They also had to figure out the proper order for the program parts, what each part does and then manipulating the program so that the robot functions efficiently, productively and adequately.

"The key to the program is figuring out what goes with what, in which direction and order," said Sharp, who is also involved in athletics and had to get special permission from his coaches to adjust his workout and practice times to participate in the robot project.

While Aguilar and Sharp were instrumental in the construction and programming of the robot, each team member including band member Anglin has contributed ideas and manpower to the overall success of the project.

The students were fine tuning and "tweaking" their robot's program this week for efficiency, speed and effectiveness. 

"It has to be precise," said Wilson, who is keeping the detailed log of expenses as well as other information required for the contest.

In the contest, a work surface is divided into three sections, with one large work area on each side of a smaller, central "dead zone" where competing teams test their robots in a face-off. Two unopened Coke cans will represent Hurricane Katrina disaster survivors while unopened Spam cans represent debris from the disaster. A compact disc positioned in the opposite corner from the start box will be considered home base.

Once turned on, the robot has to "rescue" the survivors by navigating its work area to capture the survivor and move it to the team's white work area. The robot must also clear debris out of its work area.

"It's all hands-on, real world science at its best. This is hands-on research," C-P science instructor Jan Elmore said.

The students will spend Sunday night in Austin, compete in the contest Monday morning, then spend additional time on education field trips to such Austin locales as the state capital and LBJ Library.

Mosley advises the team to go into the contest with an open mind, and to have fun with it.

He also reminded them not to be intimidated by students from larger schools with more resources and time for the projects.

"Don't let it stress you out and don't get worried if its not ready until right before you leave," said Green, who added that sometimes its those last minute glitches that help iron out the overall product for the better."

More information about the TCEA Robotics Contest can be found online at: www.tcea.org

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