Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Local robotic’s team prove lord of the rings

Morgan Darter and Jack Craven work on the base of the robot a team of six De Soto youngsters entered in a robotic competition last month at Lee Summit High School. With the help of an alliance, the team won the event.

Morgan Darter and Jack Craven work on the base of the robot a team of six De Soto youngsters entered in a robotic competition last month at Lee Summit High School. With the help of an alliance, the team won the event.

December 3, 2008

A team of six De Soto youngsters learned many lessons in bringing home first place at a Nov. 22 robotics competition, a mother of two team members said.

The team of Mize Elementary School third- and fifth-graders designed, built and operated a robot that finished first at a robotics competition at Lee Summit, Mo., High School. Lisa Moose, the mother of two of the competitors, said to be successful the team had to learn lessons in teamwork and good sportsmanship as well as engineering.

“We have a little third-grade girl who knows what a compound gear is and why you need one,” Lisa said.

The third-grader was team member Katie Craven, who not only learned the engineering lesson but retained the knowledge.

“You need a compound gear when you want to slow down,” Katie Craven said. “Otherwise, you’d go fast as lightening.”

Through it all, Lisa said the team displayed creativity. They youngsters independently came up with the team name, Circuit Squad, and that of the robot, Sebastian 4, based on its claw’s resemblance to that of the crab in “The Little Mermaid,” she said.

Teams were also encouraged to design pit areas in ways that would attract other competitors, Lisa Moose said. To do so, the team developed a banner, handed out buttons and designed a contest in which visitors were asked to guess the number of Matchbox cars in a jar.

“They gave Gummi Bears to the winners because kids wouldn’t have a reaction to them like they might to nuts or chocolate,” Lisa said. “They came up with that themselves.”

The team came together after Kyle attended a robotic’s camp at Lee Summit High School earlier this year. Kyle then recruited a team of fellow Mize fifth-graders Jack Craven, Morgan Darter and Rhett Pierce and third-graders Katie Craven and his brother Cody Moose.

The team members learned just what they were up against when six weeks before the competition they received their copy of the “ring-master challenge,” explaining the tasks the robot would have to perform.

The challenge outlined two distinct competitions. An autonomous competition in which the robot would perform a pre-programmed task with no human control, and radio controlled challenge in which team members would pilot the robot in competition against other teams.

The autonomous task required the robot be programmed to circle a central “tower of power,” with points earned for each quadrant of the 12-foot by 12-foot competition arena the robot completed.

The radio-controlled competition explained the ring-master in the challenge’s title. It involved the robot picking up rings and scoring points by placing the rings in slots in the wall enclosing the arena, over the top of it, in slots in the tower of power or on pegs placed on each corner of the tower and at its center.

The destinations scored differently with the highest of 50 points awarded to placing a ring on the center peg. That challenge appealed to Circuit Squad.

“ We made the robot to score the higher points,” Rhett said. “We all agreed if we went for the highest we would have a better chance of winning.”

Trial and error

They also learned that they needed to be flexible when applying engineering concepts. In a trial-and-error process, the team modified the robot’s arm and claw several times so that it could better handle the rings.

“We modified it so it would be larger to better pick up the rings and give it a better grip so the rings didn’t fall out,” Kyle said. “We put fingers on to better grip but we found that made it harder to place on the poles.”

They also enlarged its base so that it would be more stable.

“I learned that sometimes if you’re doing a project, you might not want to stick with the first thing you come up with because it could be a lot better,” Cody said.

Morgan said her favorite part of the experience was building the robot to master the challenges. Her contribution was providing a stability in hectic times, she said.

“Sometimes it got a little chaotic and everybody was ‘Oh my gosh,’” she said. “I kind of calmed everyone down.”

Programming the autonomous task so stumped team members that they contacted a competitor, Team WALL-E from Lee Summit, for help. In the spirit the gracious professionalism encouraged in the competition, a member of the rival team sent an email to the Circuit Squad that provided the answers needed without giving away all the Lee Summit’s teams secrets, Lisa said.

Good alliance

The team’s first round of competition last month at Lee Summit wasn’t auspicious as it finished 15th out of the 17 teams competing. But the tournament is designed so that the top-eight teams in the preliminary competition form alliances with the lower finishing teams.

As it turned out, Team WALL-E picked Circuit Squad when its members realized the De Soto team’s showing in the first round was partly because it allowed all team members a chance to pilot the robot. Together the two teams went on to claim the championship.

“We made a very good alliance,” Kyle said.

Team WALL-E’s earlier tips paid off when Sebastian was able to score points in the autonomous round that ultimately put the two teams over the top, Lisa said.

Morgan said it took a good deal of cooperation between the two teams to prevail.

“Sometimes it got a little risky,” she said. “Other teams would play defense on WALL-E, and we would try to score. In the finals, it was more defensive than offensive.”

The junior league Circuit Squad competed in was independent started by a Lee Summit faculty member, but it was based FIRST competitions Dean Kamen founded in 1989 to foster science and technology education in youngsters.

Lisa said her sons and their teammates were too young to think in terms of a career, but the experience certainly got Kyle’s attention.

That observation was true of Morgan as well.

“I don’t know,” she said asked if she wanted to be an engineer. “But doing this opened that opportunity for me.”

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