CoCo BEST Robotics competition inspires students
Olney High School is at it again, only this semester they’re not building an airplane - it’s a robot. With a paperclip, some duct tape and a handful of other items, Olney High School’s Robotics class built a miniature prototype designed to save lives. They are your modern day MacGyvers.
“I bought my son a little tin can robot from WalMart for Christmas. He and I sat together and made it, and I really enjoyed it and he really enjoyed it. A few weeks later I went to Mr. Caffey and said I wanted to teach a robotics course,” said robotics teacher Sabrina Laurent. Laurent teaches computer science for OHS and taught the team of students that won the GAMA Build-A-Plane challenge last year.
“We had a robotics class last year, but it was actually lego robotics. This year we took it a step further. This is a UIL competition. We are using real tools.”
Robotics is new to the High School, though there is a robotics course for 5th graders, and plans to implement the curriculum next year at the Junior High level.
Along with the course is the opportunity to participate in a new UIL robotics competition. OHS students traveled to Prosper ISD in Prosper, Texas to participate in that competition over the weekend. The Collin county hub is known as the CoCo Best Robotics and is one of 20 hubs throughout eight states.
The event is sponsored by the BEST program, which stands for Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology. According to their website, it “is a sports-like technology competition that hopes to inspire and motivate students towards studies and careers in engineering, science, and technology.”
Teams are given identical kits at no cost thanks to the BEST Robotics program. From these kits, they were to design and build a remote-controlled machine. But these kits aren’t from IKEA and there are no instructions.
Some of this year’s kit included PVC pipes, aluminum blocks and sheets, lumber, plywood, three tiny motors and metal conduit.
Along with an compact computer module for the brain, BEST provided a remote controller that looks like it belongs to a high-end gaming system. It’s easy to forget that each push of the button or movement of a joystick was coded by a high school student and not by a college graduate or the gaming industry. Coding is just one of the many aspects of the BEST Robotics program designed to create interest in these specialized fields.
The students had to design a scaled model which could maneuver inside the course, as well as fit inside the starting box. With some fabrication help cutting sheet metal from Mr. Dunlap’s ag class, the team could brain storm creative ideas. Each member of the team was in charge of specific aspects of the build.
The complete OHS robotics team included Aldo Corona, Michael Green, Christian Fuksa, Mason Spivey, Ricardo Pacheco, Gary Turner, Jeb Carpenter and Fatima Marquez.
Students began a series of presentations on Friday, including one that resembles the hit television show, Shark Tank, according to robotics teacher Sabrina Laurent.
During an episode, would-be inventors and business people pitch their ideas to a panel of wealthy judges in hopes of securing funding for their next big idea.
Each year, a new task and materials are given for the CoCo BEST robotics competition, and this year the theme was firefighting.
Complete with a website and brochures, the team pretended to be a fire station marketing their firefighting robot SCORCH to other fire stations in a mock presentation. “They had a budget. They had advertising fundraising. They each had a role in the company,” said Laurent.
Along with the presentation, teams made exhibits where they showcased their business. OHS robotics highlighted the firefighters lost in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers, and won them first place in exhibit design and construction.
With numerous opportunities to shine, including a 35-page engineering notebook detailing every decision the team made, the highlight of the competition was the robot in action.
While design and coding are important, the one controlling the robot is just as critical. Within three minutes the driver must complete three tasks. Each task is weighted for points by priority.
Within the square room lies three canisters, representing combustibles, numerous SOLO cups lining shelves representing the fire, and a dummy named Manny laying on the floor.
The driver must get Manny back to the starting area, and within the lines of the box, for 75 points. Each canister must be dropped inside a containment box at the corner of the mat for 25 points each, and balls are shot at the cups for 5 points each.
Though OHS did not advance to the next level, every member of the team said they anticipate next year’s competition.