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Plum High School team builds better bots

| Thursday, May 15, 2008

When members of the Plum High School Robotics Team traveled to Miami for a recent national competition, the intensity level was much like preparing for final exams.

"The last night especially was a late night working on the robots and eating pizza," said Anthony Petricca, 16, sophomore.

The extra work paid off in a big way. The team's two robots -- "Aftershock" and "Shockwave II" -- placed second and third in a field of 70 competitors at The Competition 2008 earlier this month. The finishes showed improvement from last year, when the Plum High School team's entry placed in the top eight with "Intensity."

The competition tests the ability of the students to build a robot that can outmaneuver and out-power 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.

The Plum team laid the groundwork for the national competition after taking first-place honors in March at the local contest -- the Southwestern Pennsylvania Competition at Century III Mall in West Mifflin.

Five of the 10 team members made the trip to Florida. They said they adjusted last year's robot to give them a leg up this year.

"We had to build a better bot," said senior Joe Costantino, 18.

Fellow senior Cody Harris, 17, said after looking at the design flaws, the team decided to angle the sides of the robots.

Rick Volker, energy technology class and robotic team instructor, said redesigning the robots helped improve their performance.

Volker said the team used a slanted rather than vertical design and used more powerful batteries.

"From an engineering standpoint, it was a better engineered and designed robot," he said.

With half of the robotic team scheduled to graduate this spring, Volker is looking for new members. A couple of the seniors are excited about coming back to offer their expertise as advisers.

"I want to do something in engineering," Harris said. "This is great hands-on experience."

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