Scott youth participate in international robot competition

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Samantha S. Crane
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
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Or, in human terms, turn left. But Zippy isn't human, he's a robot, and behind Zippy stands a six-person team consisting of home-schooled high school students, four of whom are military family members from Scott AFB.

They call themselves the Robotic Maniacs, and they will travel to Atlanta in mid-April to compete against 100 teams from all over the world.

"It's the Olympics for robots," said Ryan Howard, the team mechanic.

Formed in 1989, FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a worldwide organization that promotes an interest in engineering and technology among school-age students.

Students design, build and program robots; apply math and science concepts; develop problem-solving and team-building skills; compete and cooperate in alliances and tournaments; earn a place in the world championship; and qualify for close to $7 million in college scholarships.

In September, the team of six was presented with a kit of parts and a challenge to create a robot with the ability to maneuver on a playing field to collect and shoot balls into a goal during a fast-paced offensive and defensive competition.

The team, made up of three programmers, Josiah Gulick, Alison Howard and Lizze Mullen; two mechanics, JT Gulick and Ryan Howard; and one diagnostician, Jesse Baxter; spent one month planning, and two months putting in up to 40-hour-work weeks to write programs and design Zippy.

"Our robot is the result of hard work, time, correct measurements, careful tuning and a whole lot of genius," Ryan said.

After the first competition in St. Louis Dec. 5, the Robotic Maniacs completely remodeled Zippy after learning from their own and other teams' downfalls and achievements. Following the Iowa City Championship Jan. 9, the team once again made modifications to their robot in preparation for the Cape Girardeau Championship Feb. 27.

Their dedication and hard work were proven with the presentations of four awards, one of which guaranteed the Robotic Maniacs a spot in the world championship.

This year's world championship will take place in Atlanta April 14 through 17 and feature the game, Hotshot.

Hotshot is played on a 12-by-12 field with a multibasket goal in the center of the field and two off-field goals. Two alliances, each consisting of two teams, face off in each match. A match begins with 30 seconds of autonomous play where a robot is controlled by a previously coded program followed by a two minute driver-controlled period. In the last 30 seconds, teams can attempt to score points in the off-field goals.

"Barring any mechanical difficulties, I think we can do pretty well," Josiah said. "We have a heavy robot for defense, accurate shooter and a way to pick up balls rapidly."

The experience has benefited all involved, from the students to the coaches. While Jesse Baxter, the team diagnostician, said he enjoys the hands-on experience of building a robot, Ryan believes he benefits most from learning to think outside the box.

"We learned how to work together as a team, work with different people during competitions, how to solve difficult problems and pay attention to detail," Josiah said.

Lizze counts on the work she is doing now to help her excel in future goals.

"It gives you more opportunity for the future," Lizze said. "You can say, 'hey look at this, I can do this.'"

Ron Howard, head coach and father of Ryan and Alison, said he looks at the program as a life experience, teaching the students not only about the mechanical and programming aspects, but how to become leaders.

"It's very rewarding to see the kids, who know nothing at the start of the program, gel as a team and learn together," Mr. Howard said. "They figured all this out on their own. It's so much more than just building robots."

Lt. Col. Jeff Gulick, assistant coach and father of Josiah and JT, also said he realizes how valuable a program this can be for the students' futures.

"The skills they're learning will carry them through college and their careers," Colonel Gulick said. "It's a huge challenge, and to see them take on that challenge is very rewarding."