Competition challenges robot building, programming skills

Posted 3/15/10

The scene was organized confusion with teams working to make adjustments or correct problems before the next round of competition during the March 13 …

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Competition challenges robot building, programming skills


The scene was organized confusion with teams working to make adjustments or correct problems before the next round of competition during the March 13 Colorado FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Championship Tournament at Arapahoe Community College.

There were 19 teams taking part in the competition that challenges high school age students to design and build robots to complete specific tasks. In this event, it was scoring points for scooping up loose balls and either dumping them on an assigned location or shooting them into specified targets. The teams competed head-to-head and the robots that did the assigned tasks best won awards for their builders.

Sheridan High School students entered the competition with their robot named Sheridan Resistance.

Like all the teams, Sheridan Resistance was created from Erector Set-like parts in a Lego robot kit. But the kit provides the building materials and a system programmed to use a variety of languages as a starting point for the students to develop and construct a robot to take part in the competition.

Sheridan adviser Rachel Kildenhoven said a summer class increased her interest in robots and eventually led to the club that built the contest entry.

“I am a biology teacher. I work with the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics program and told the students in the class about what I learned about the FIRST Tech Challenge program,” Kildenhoven said as the team prepared for the next round. “I didn't know if the students would be interested so I was impressed when 12 to 15 kids came to our first club meeting. We sent for information about the program and decided to enter the competition.”

Lucas Brown, programmer for the Sheridan team, said he joined the team because he wants to be an engineer and the project looked like fun.

“It proved to be harder than I expected because I had to use a different language to get the program right,” he said. "It was challenging but I also had a good time on the project. I think we did well this year and I am already looking forward to competing again next year.”

One unexpected challenge for Sheridan was a time crunch when the equipment didn’t arrive until the day before the competition.

“We worked a lot of hours to get the robot built and running in just one day. It got a little hectic because we changed designs four or five times before we decided on the design we built,” team member Julie Stevenson said. “I got interested because I saw robots on TV and thought working on one would be fun. I was never very good at Legos or Tinker Toys but, I pitched in to help the other members of the team build our robot. It was fun, I learned a lot and I enjoy working on the project.”

Kildenoven said the initial tournament test didn’t go well.

“The robot worked fine in the practice pit but when we went into competition, it wouldn’t’ even move,” she said. “We took it back to the practice area and it worked fine. But we did do some adjustments and we did a pretty good job in the second round and scored some points. I am so proud of our team and the robot they built.”

Sheridan was among the 19 teams, including two entries from Utah and one from California, competing in the tournament.

Kathy Collier, event coordinator, said she was happy with the turnout and the intense competition that was going on for a variety of prizes, including scholarships.

“Additionally, one or two teams will qualify to go to the international tournament later this year in Atlanta, where about 100 teams from all over the world be be competing,” she said.

The tournament is part of the national program sponsored by FIRST — for inspiration and recognition of science and technology. The organization was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, to inspire young people’s participation in science and technology.


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