Summer Robotics Camps at Patriot HS Promotes STEM, Innovation, Sportsmanship

| August 10, 2012 | 0 Comments | Education

Everything is tense as teams control their robots in the "Sack Attack" competition. The robots need to sink as many sacks as possible into the goals.

As the nation pushes for more students to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the classroom, one co-curricular activity has enthralled the young people of Northern Virginia: robotics.

Spurred by their interests in science and technology, 250 students from elementary through high school participated in eleven robotics camps for students sponsored by SySTEMic Solutions, a part of Northern Virginia Community College.

On Aug. 9, Patriot High School opened its doors to family and friends of robotics campers to watch robots compete in team challenges, a preview of the type of competition the campers would likely face in the fall competitions.

Middle and high school aged students from all over Western Prince William, the City of Manassas and Manassas Park attended a two-week long VEX camp for programmers and builders. Elementary students attended a five-day LEGO robotics camp also held at Patriot.

One team tinkers with their bot before the last competition event.

Robotics campers, who will face each other as competitors this fall, worked side by side designing, creating, programming and driving their vehicular bots in competitions.

VEX teams of campers in grades 7-9 and 10-12 competed in several remote control and automatic competitions.

In the remote control competition, two teams of three worked together, using their robots to pick up, carry and sink beanbag-like sacks into several scoring zones against two opposing teams. During the first few minutes of the competition, engineers rely on pre-programming functions to move their robots.

After that, they use the remote controls to drive their vehicle in close quarters. Typically, one camper directs the vehicle via the controls, while the other team members scan the field and advise the driver.

Gianna Casolara, a student at Manassas Christian School, explained that her team’s strategy was to play offense, as their alliance partner scored.

Some parents and siblings cheer for the bots from the stands, while others record them in action.

“If another team scored a goal, then we would go and take it out to occupy their robot. In the last ten seconds, they would drop in their square and would take it out.”

However, Jeronimo Cox, a rising sophomore at Patriot High School, believes competitions are ultimately won or lost on design, which is why his team insisted on innovation.

“Everyone else was building tank treads. We thought, it’s not about getting over the obstacles, it’s about getting around them and scoring quickly,” Cox said.

To circumvent obstacles, Cox’s team equipped their robot with a fifth wheel for maneuvering side-to-side.

Excited team members do a robot dance between competitions. Everyone seems to enjoy the atmosphere on the last day of camp.

On an adjacent field, robots competed individually, attempting to autonomously traverse a course, including corners and an upward incline.

While most vehicles could easily navigate the initial turns, few successfully entered the ramp without assistance from a team member. During the camps, the rules are less restrictive as the camps are considered preseason practice to the competitions during the school year.

On the other side of the school, elementary students participated in competitions for their LEGO robots. One involved an autonomous challenge, in which robotic vehicles navigated along a floor plan, entering and exiting rooms.

According to coach Ryan Osweiler, on a real competition field there would be partitions between rooms, but the floor plan simulates the environment.

Boys watch as bots drop their bean bag sacks onto the ledge for the score.

When a few robots navigated unsuccessfully, Osweiler told his students that even the most successful engineers have glitches, but part of being an engineer is creating a fail-safe  for the one percent of the time when something goes wrong.

Back in the VEX room, students celebrated the competitions with the enthusiasm one might find at any sporting event. Teens danced around to pop music, and moms and dads recorded the competitions with their iPads and smart phones.

While it was easy to see what the campers had learned and accomplished this summer, it was also evident that they enjoyed the spirit of competition, innovation and teamwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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