‘Mind Athletes’ prepare for ‘Rumble’

Gary B. Gray • Jan 25, 2012 at 8:44 PM

They call it “The Jenny.”

Board of Education member Jenny Brock likely would shuck any attention, but the Science Hill High School Robotics Team has nicknamed their high-tech creation after the person they say helped give them the opportunity to apply their scientifically creative skills in March at the FIRST Robotics Competition for grades 9-12 in Knoxville.

Brandon Horne, an engineer with the Johnson City Power Board, is serving as a mentor and helping the team with his expertise in electronic systems.

He began to explain the basics.

“A 12-volt battery goes to a power distribution system ... ” Something about “logic control — transponder?”

At this point the layman’s terms are far and few between, and it becomes immediately evident these students are very much on the ball in this scientific endeavor.

These are the “mind athletes,” and this is the varsity.

The Jenny started as a box full of assorted parts. The robot now has four wheels, gears, a frame, a wireless camera to serve as its eyes and a motherboard complete with gizmos and gadgets that only one of the 15 or so team members can specifically identify.

Team members gather each day after school for more than two hours under the supervision of Patty McFadden, a SHHS computer-aided design teacher, and several mentors who are donating their time to act as coaches for the team’s marketing, fundraising, building and programming arms.

“It’s a big learning process for everyone,” said Ben Elliott, co-captain of the building team. “I’m now close friends with everyone. I only knew half the team when we started.”

On the programming side, Jake Collier hovered over a laptop designing the program that eventually will be socked into the “brains” of the robot.

“We’re using a program called Lab View,” he said. “We’ll be using a router, and the robot can be controlled manually through a computer. But we’ll also be able to just push a button, and the robot will function automatically.”

When asked if he’d like to take these skills and incorporate them into a future career, Collier looked straight ahead and without hesitation answered: “I know I want to be an aerospace engineer. I just know I’d really like it.”

All the students received on Jan. 7 when they picked up the parts was what the robot’s function should be, McFadden said.

“The robot will play ‘Rebound Rumble,’ ” she said. “It’s pretty much like playing basketball. We’re building a defensive robot that will be controlled both by a laptop and automatically. It’s a full court with four goals at each end, and at mid-court are two teetering bridges that have to be crossed.”

The Jenny will have teammates of sorts. It is being built to fend off attempts at the goals, but it will work in concert with other robots during the competition in the Smoky Mountain Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Knoxville Convention Center.

“Their teammates basically will be drawn from a hat,” she said. “As the competition nears the end, teams can scout other teams to form alliances. The robot’s performance will be judged based on a points system, and as competition goes on, teams are eliminated.”

Though Brock was one of the first to push for a team at Science Hill, Energy Systems Group donated $23,000 to Science Hill, Sullivan North, Tennessee High and Dobyns-Bennett high schools to be used as seed money to form teams for the first time.

J.C. Penney has been a contributor to similar events nationwide, and recently the location at the Mall at Johnson City kicked in $6,500 toward a sponsorship of Science Hill’s team, which is nicknamed SciCyber2 Robotics. The T-shirts are on their way.

The experience — from start to finish — is as close to “real world” engineering that a student can get. They learn from professional engineers, build and compete with a robot of their own design, compete and cooperate in alliances and tournaments, earn a place in the World Championship and qualify for more than $14.8 million in college scholarships.

It’s big, and student Stephen Pate, who heads the marketing duties, said he hopes he can generate some additional backing. This is a must, since the team has to find a way to pay for extra materials on their own.

“I call on sponsors and set up appointments and try to influence people to contribute,” Pate said. “You’re helping support Science Hill. And we’re branching out so students can use their research, design and building skills. We’re going to be needing several vans to go to Knoxville, and we don’t know where those will come from. We’re hoping more sponsors will come on.”

For more information about this team or to make donations or contributions, call Patty McFadden at 444-5425.

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