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Building robots gives Pine-Richland students taste of future

| Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Pine-Richland juniors Sean Carroll, Tony Benaglio and Alec Buss watch their robot navigate the course to figure out any tweaks they may need to make to the program.
Pine-Richland seniors Mike Mahich and Matthew Mehelic test their robot on the course as juniors Tony Benaglio, Sean Carroll and Alec Buss wait for their turn to test their robot.
A robot built by Pine-Richland juniors Michael Coholich and Austin Hayes follows the course using sensors on the undercarriage of the robot’s metal body frame.

Students at Pine-Richland High School are learning about real-world technologies by building robots.

Evan Clark, applied technology and engineering teacher, is guiding students in making robots, formally known as automated guided vehicles, in his robotics manufacturing class.

Students design and build a body for their robots, then write a program to tell the robot what to do.

The goal is for the robots to follow a course taped on the floor using sensors on the undercarriage of the vehicle.

The robots are programmed to stop at intersections in the tape course for a few seconds and then proceed, simulating the automatic braking systems many new vehicles come equipped with, Clark said.

Each robot vehicle has a metal frame, an array of sensors, wires, ports and a battery pack, but that's where the similarities end. Clark said he showed his students example vehicles, but otherwise they are free to design a robot that they think would work best.

Juniors Alex Buss, Tony Benaglio and Sean Carroll created a compact square body with tank treads for their robot.

“I wanted to use a bot with tank tracks because we had a lot of trouble using tank tracks in robotics last year, but this year it's working well,” Buss said.

Seniors Matthew Mehelic and Mike Mahich chose to use a design featuring two wheels in the front and four in the back “to give it more grip,” Mahich said.

“The hardest part is programming it,” Mahich said. “Building it was the fun part.”

The project is graded by a rubric that examines each part of the project, including the design, programming and functionality.

Clark said they will be graded heavily on the programming aspect of it.

Students have about two weeks to work on and complete the project.

Juniors Michael Coholich and Austin Hayes built a robot with a long rectangular body and four skateboard wheels. The pair said they made the body design simple so they could focus on “making the program really good.”

“This project was really fun,” Hayes said. “I really do enjoy this.”

In order to take the robotics manufacturing class, students must be sophomore, junior or senior and have taken the pre-requisite robotics class.

The AGV project combines software engineering and mechanical engineering.

“If they decide to get into different kinds of programming or engineering, this is the technology they need to know,” Clark said. “And it's just important to know how the technology works because it's everywhere in the real world today.”

For example, sensors such as the ones used on the students' robots are also found on automatic garage doors or gates, Clark said.

While some students took the class for fun, others are using their education as a stepping-stone to a future career.

“I like working with my hands and with technology,” Benaglio said. “And I wanted more information on how to do this for a career.”

Carroll, a member of the AFJROTC at Pine-Richland, said the robotics and engineering background he's gained from this course will help him with his intended career in the Air Force. He'd like to work with unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

“I may not be into building and programming them, but I want to pilot and control them,” he said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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