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Robotics team prepares for first competition

December 13th, 2011 10:42 pm by Gary B. Gray

Robotics team prepares for first competition

A varsity sport for the mind.
No tackling. No feats of physical strength or forcing your opponent into submission — but competition it is.
The Science Hill High School robotics team is gearing up for the FIRST Robotics Competition for grades 9-12, and they’ve been gearing up by taking a few lessons from the da Vinci surgical system at Johnson City Medical Center.
A team of more than 30 students has formed a “mini business,” complete with researchers, engineers and designers and a marketing team to promote the final product. Beginning Jan. 7, the robotics team will literally retrieve a box of parts. Included will be instructions on how to construct the system and its purpose.
Students can add what they need, but they do so on their own using money from donations and a grant. But they’ll have just six weeks from that time to build a robot from scratch that will complete different tasks in the Smoky Mountain Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Knoxville Convention Center in March. The goal is to build the robotic system to function and perform at its best during a competition.
Last week, members of the team got an opportunity to take a few lessons from da Vinci. Not Leonardo — the da Vinci surgical system at JCMC. The students examined the mechanics of the robot and spoke with Dr. Wayne Tongco, a urologist who operates with the da Vinci surgical system.
“Technology is a driving force in medicine,” Tongco said. “This is one of those new and unique instruments that we are able to use to improve patient outcomes.”
Each student was able to take a turn operating the system and inspect its parts with Tongco’s help.
“I’ve learned a lot about basic functions that we can apply to our robot,” said Jake Collier, captain of the programming team. “The best part about being on the robotics team is meeting people who know what they’re doing and getting real-life experience.”
FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It’s as close to “real world” engineering that a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.
“We’ll take a group of students to Knoxville to the competition kick off to pick up the robotic parts,” said Patty McFadden, SHHS robotics team lead coach and a Computer-Aided Design teacher. “This is the first time we’ve had teams from the East Tennessee area. We received a $6,500 grant from J.C. Penney and a $5,000 grant from Energy Systems Group.”
Students get to 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.
FIRST is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to helping young people discover and develop a passion for science, engineering, technology and math. Founded more than 20 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen, the 2009-10 FIRST season attracted more than 210,000 youths and more than 90,000 mentors, coaches and volunteers from 56 countries.
The annual programs culminate in an international robotics competition and celebration where teams win recognition, gain self-confidence, develop people and life skills, make new friends and perhaps discover an unforeseen career path.
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