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Hempfield Area team grabs second in regional robot duels

| Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem's (from left) Sean Barill, Bradyn Claycomb and Ryan Downs work on their robot during the BotsIQ competition.

As a group of Greensburg Salem students worked out the kinks in the electrical system of their remote-controlled robot at the recent regional robotics contest at California University of Pennsylvania, they were treated to an announcer giving a blow-by-blow description of the latest battle at the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition.

The Greensburg Salem students had built a “wedge bot” — a sleek, slanted front-end robot designed to overturn an opponent's remote-controlled robot in an enclosed battleground at Cal U's Convocation Center.

Their first year of competition in the BotsIQ contest taught the students lessons in teamwork, project management and engineering skills, said sophomore Bradyn Claycomb.

The group of Greensburg Salem students were among 800 students from 47 schools in Central and Western Pennsylvania — including Hempfield Area, Derry Area, Greater Latrobe, Norwin, Southmoreland and Yough high schools — that competed in the ninth annual robotics competition April 25-26.

Hempfield Area High School's K.A.R.A. team won second place in the competition, losing to Plum High's robot in the championship bout.

The K.A.R.A. team also was recognized as having the best engineered robot, as voted by the Bots Safety Committee.

Hempfield's robot was selected for being the most innovative, with the best serviceability, durability and safety of design.

Students in the competition said they had been working on the robots since September, when they started with the design. Then they moved on to buying materials and building it. The last-minute revisions continued throughout the competition, as teams were repairing or making necessary changes to their metal-clad robots. The teams had partnered with local businesses and industries in designing and building the robots before ultimately sending them into battle.

“The students designed, built, destroyed and then rebuilt these bots,” said William K. Padnos, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ. “It's a manufacturing workforce development program disguised as a high school robotics competition.”

“I believe so much in this program,” said Marie Bowers, administrator for the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, which brought 30 students and a titanium-clad robot to the competition.

Students and teachers brainstormed to put together robots that are in fighting shape and built to meet the specifications for the competition. They had the opportunity for a hands-on experience that allowed them to explore the possibilities of a career in the manufacturing sector and other science, technology, engineering or math fields, organizers said.

Although the region's steel industry has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past four decades, manufacturing has not disappeared from the state or the Pittsburgh region.

Pennsylvania had 560,000 manufacturing jobs in March, according to the state's Center for Workforce Information and Analysis.

The Pittsburgh region — Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties — had 86,800 manufacturing jobs, a drop of 2,500 jobs from March 2013, the workforce center reported.

“The vision is that all students in Southwestern Pennsylvania will consider manufacturing as a viable career option. The key is getting them started down the pathway” that could lead them to community college, an associate degree, a four-year college or right into the workplace, Padnos said.

Students in the competition are learning the techniques and soft skills that are needed for jobs in advanced manufacturing, Padnos said.

“They're able to see what manufacturing really is all about it, not what they've been told it is,” he said.

“It's not their father's manufacturing workplace.”

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or