Robot competition requires science, innovation and teamwork
A group of 4-H youngsters from Latrobe, Derry and Greensburg and students at the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Stanton will compete this week in a special basketball contest that will test their skills in ways no mere team sporting event could.
Rather than dribbling and shooting, the youngsters will be using battery-powered robots they designed, built and programmed to make a basket at the Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, which will be held Friday and Saturday at the Peterson Events Center in Oakland. They will face three-on-three competition against robots built by 45 schools and clubs from Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and even Niagara Falls, Canada.
The 4-H Club and CTC robots could find themselves on the same three-team alliance, or playing against each other in two-minute, 30-second games, said Patricia DePra, Pittsburgh FIRST regional director.
The robotics competition, sponsored by the nonprofit For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology of Manchester, N.H., tested the youngsters' knowledge of science and technology. They had to work under a deadline with each other and adult leaders, team leaders said.
"This brings everything into a full-scale learning experience --- the science, technology, engineering and math. They are learning a lot of principles of math and science," said James Broker, the head coach of the 25-member CTC robotics team and a mechatronics instructor at the school.
Stretching their reach
Students in carpentry, machining, welding and other programs were involved. "A lot of the students are getting to learn about things they are not accustomed to," Broker said. This is the school's second year in the competition.
The JCP 4-H Gears Club is in its rookie season. The FIRST robotics program fits nicely with the 4-H motto of learning by doing, said Johanna Sheppard, 4-H extension educator for the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County. The club is named after retailer J.C. Penney Co., which donated $8,500 for the club's registration fee and building materials, Sheppard said.
To learn by experience "is precisely what these youth are doing by building this working robot. Not only do these 4-H members work alongside professional engineers to build a robot of their own design, but they also are exposed to design project management, programming, teamwork and strategic thinking, which mimic real life," Sheppard said.
Since early January, the 4-H members and nine leaders spent a few evenings a week and several Saturdays building their robot at a warehouse in Unity. They used a standard kit of parts valued at $1,500 -- hundreds of screws, bolts and nuts, plus metal for the frame, motors, batteries, a control system, two joysticks to control the metal hands and a metal arm that reaches 5 feet off the ground.
The 4-H students learned about computer-aided drafting, mechanics, programming and electronics, said Allan Jones of Derry, an adult leader who is an engineer with DeVilbiss Health Care LLC in Somerset.
What they have to say
4-H member Josh Jones, 16, of Derry, said he liked the experience of putting together the robot. The problem-solving aspect of the project appealed to Sam McGaughran, 15, of Derry, and Gary Harter, 15, of Latrobe, enjoyed using the power tools.
"I like to think they got a sense of accomplishment out of it. They really expanded their technical knowledge of robots and were not intimidated about it," said Jeff Schomer of Latrobe, the 4-H organizational leader on the project and an adviser at FirstEnergy Co.'s West Penn Power in Greensburg.
Based on its practice sessions, the 4-H robot will give them a shot in the competition.
"We were consistently making baskets from 12 feet away," Schomer said.
The winning alliance of three robots, along with robots that win the Engineering Inspiration Award and the Chairman's Award, will go onto the national robotics championship on April 25 in St. Louis. The 4-H club could qualify for the championship a third way --- by winning the Rookie Award from a field of 11 first-time entrants in the Pittsburgh regional competition, DePra said.
The effort was a success, said Peter Jerz, 14, of Greensburg, who said he learned about teamwork while working on the online writing and documentation for the project.
"I was just a rookie who had to learn this stuff right off the bat, participate in building, testing, then tearing up, fixing and rebuilding a robot," said Jerz, who plans to participate in next year's competition.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- As suicides spike, new Pa. law to start prevention efforts in 6th grade
- Seinfeld takes Irwin man’s Jaguar for a sip, spin
- Mt. Pleasant’s plans for Penn Park move forward
- Korns chosen as Westmoreland GOP chairman
- Hempfield auto service center fire under investigation
- Bookkeeper accused of stealing nearly $140K from Latrobe funeral home
- Doctor for prosecution to evaluate Franklin Regional stabbing suspect’s mental state
- Latrobe council might reconsider pharmacy owner’s request to remove tree
- Westmoreland County Airport Authority OKs repair contracts
- Mt. Pleasant Relay for Life heading for starting line
- Franklin Regional wants firing of music instructor Wonderling to be upheld