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BotsIQ draws high school robot teams to battle at Cal U

Patrick Varine
| Friday, April 28, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

It's rare that teachers encourage students to enter into violent competition.

But that's the case when it comes to battling robots they've engineered for the 12th annual Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition, which is being held this weekend at California University of Pennsylvania.

“When you flip another robot, it's sick,” said Max Haberberger, 15, a Penn-Trafford freshman. “This year, our robot has a triangular weapon on the front, and it spins at 21,000 RPMs.”

While the majority of robots are low to the ground to maximize stability, each is designed differently.

Ben Blackburn, 18, is on Mal's Minions, one of two teams from Highlands High School in Natrona Heights. His team won its first battle on Friday.

“Our initial idea was to build the robot around the weapon,” he said. “So we looked at a bunch of our robots from years past and decided the most efficient weapon was the rotating drum, so we built around that.”

Astronomy teacher Jason Brandt, the faculty adviser for the Greater Latrobe High School team, said he enjoys watching students work on their robots and solve problems that come up.

“We tell the kids we don't want to see the same robot every year,” Brandt said. “I've been coming here 11 years. The first year, you were just happy to have a robot that could run and hit something. Now different team members have different responsibilities, and the whole thing is student-driven rather than teacher-driven. I kind of sit back, and I'm here if they have a question or a problem.”

BotsIQ is a manufacturing workforce development program of the Pittsburgh Chapter National Tooling & Machining Foundation.

“It's amazing what students have been learning. I learn a lot from them,” said BotsIQ Executive Director William Padnos. “We also get a lot of manufacturers involved. And, as modern manufacturing has evolved, it's amazing to see what people are able to do at (manufacturing) shops that has translated to the students and what they've learned. We've had robots that are 100 percent 3-D printed made from powdered steel.”

Sometimes getting things right is a matter of fine-tuning.

“In previous years, we've had issues with speed controllers and batteries,” said Dylan Haines, 18, a senior on the Penn Hills High School team. “We've tried to fix the kinks from previous years.”

The competition continues Saturday as battle brackets are whittled down and two finalists go head-to-head for the championship.

Brandt said it's amazing to see what students come up with.

“It used to be shopping-cart wheels and engines from DeWalt drills, so the technology changes have been amazing to see over the years,” he said. “Now you see highly technical machines that look like they could be mass-produced and sold.”

For more, see BotsIQPA.org .

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

Above, robots created by students from Plum High School ('Interfector') and Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center ('Redeemer') battle at the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition on April 28, 2017, at Cal U.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Above, robots created by students from Plum High School ('Interfector') and Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center ('Redeemer') battle at the Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ competition on April 28, 2017, at Cal U.
Aaron Evangelista, a senior at Baldwin, controls his robot as sparks fly, during the first round of the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Aaron Evangelista, a senior at Baldwin, controls his robot as sparks fly, during the first round of the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Clairton High School's Ladybug (left), flips West Mifflin's bot, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Clairton High School's Ladybug (left), flips West Mifflin's bot, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Members of the Plum High School BotsIQ team make some modifications to their robot before taking on Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in the competition.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Members of the Plum High School BotsIQ team make some modifications to their robot before taking on Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in the competition.
Daniel Ternent, 18, a senior at Penn Hills High School, shows his team's robot gladiator, 'Beast.'
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Daniel Ternent, 18, a senior at Penn Hills High School, shows his team's robot gladiator, 'Beast.'
Dyllan Brant (left), of Derry Area High School, plays Yugion with team mate Rickie Piper, while waiting to be called for their robot battle, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Dyllan Brant (left), of Derry Area High School, plays Yugion with team mate Rickie Piper, while waiting to be called for their robot battle, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
After completing safety checks, bots sit waiting for their bouts, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
After completing safety checks, bots sit waiting for their bouts, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Volunteer Davids Jacobs (left), conducts a safety check as Punxsutawney's Kolton Smith describes their bot, during the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Volunteer Davids Jacobs (left), conducts a safety check as Punxsutawney's Kolton Smith describes their bot, during the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Connellsville's Noah Barczyk controls their bot through a loosing heat against  Pine Richland, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Connellsville's Noah Barczyk controls their bot through a loosing heat against Pine Richland, during BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Norwin's Tynan Tinley drives the teams bot during their win against Punxsutawney, at the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Norwin's Tynan Tinley drives the teams bot during their win against Punxsutawney, at the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Norwin's  drives the teams bot during their win against Punxsutawney, at the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Norwin's drives the teams bot during their win against Punxsutawney, at the BotsIQ final competition at California University of Pennsylvania,on Friday, April 28, 2017. Students from 62 schools around the region came together to compete in the weekends event.
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