Plum robotics team gears up for competitions

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Joe Doerfler and Zack Knight have huge shoes to fill on the Plum High School robotics team.

Both students have brothers who designed prize-winning robots that competed at past national robotics league championships.

“If I mess up, he will yell at me,” Joe Doerfler, 15, a freshman, said referring to his brother, Don Doerfler, a 2012 Plum High School graduate who is studying engineering at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville. “He helps me a lot.”

Knight's brother, Joe Knight, is a 2010 Plum High School graduate.

“He designed (the robot) Final Shock,” said Zack Knight, 15, a sophomore. “I'm going to redesign it next year.”

Doerfler and Knight with their robotics teammates last weekend competed in the preliminary round of the Southwestern PA BotsIQ's eighth Annual Regional Competition at the Westmoreland County Community College.

The competition tests the ability of the students to build a robot that can outmaneuver and outpower the competitor, much like what is seen on the “Battlebots” television series.

The goal is to have a stronger, more durable robot that can withstand the impact of other robots, as well as act as an offensive weapon.

Martin Griffith, team advisor who teaches computer-aided drafting and robotics at the high school, said one of the team's robots, “Still 'N Shock 2,” placed third. The new robot, “Still 'N Tact,” placed in the top 10, Griffith said. Students from 40 school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania competed.

“We did well,” Griffith said. “We found several weaknesses that we need to improve on, both in the robot designs and in driving.”

Griffith said the preliminary round is for testing purposes and to decide placement for the final round April 19 and 20 at California University of Pennsylvania's Convocation Center. The competition is free and open to the public.

Teams next go on in May to the National Robotics League Championships in Indianapolis.

Luke Yount, 17, a senior, said past competitions have taught the team many lessons.

“We have learned to have a small, compact BOT with a more rigid frame and thicker armor,” Young said.

Yount has participated in the competitions for the past four years.

“It's just a fun sport,” Yount said.

The Plum team during last year's national championship in Indianapolis won grand-champion, second-place and best-documentation awards.

The Plum robotics team first competed in 2007. The team has captured first-place finishes in preliminary and regional competitions over the past several years, as well as top honors in the national competition in 2009.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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