Published Sunday, December 16, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
(Editor's Note: This is a corrected version of the original story)
Two, One, Robot!
That was the countdown to competitions heard over and over Saturday at the third annual CEC Vex Robotics Competition.
High schoolers from schools around the state brought their robots to compete in this year's Vex competition, called "sack attack."
Competitors design their robots to pick up bean bags and place them in certain scoring positions, including colored squares, troughs, and a high platform.
Several teams from the CEC "TriBots" club were competing Saturday.
All robots are made from the basic Vex kit. But within that kit, there are a huge variety of options, and of all the dozens of robots at the competition, no two seemed exactly alike.
Nor did they stay the same. As long as your robot stays within the starting dimensions of 18 by 18 by 18, pretty much anything goes. Competitors were tweaking their robots throughout the competition. Some made radical changes between matches, while others simply tightened a few nuts.
Cordell Kadlick of CEC team 95S started designing his team's robot — affectionately known as SPAM, for Special Programmable Autonomous Machine, in August, long before teams were assigned. SPAM has been through a lot of tweaking.
"It's a lot of trail an error," said fellow team member David Murphy. In its current version, SPAM has a scissor lift to help it score the big points on the high platform.
Why do they do it?
"It's fun, first of all," said Murphy. Murphy and Kadlick, along with fellow team member Mike Sessions, have been on the same team for three years. Last year, their robot went through four or five major redesigns.
"It's different and challenging, but I like it," said Casey Tillery, who held up the SPAM sign during matches. She's also a great writer for their engineering notebook, said Murphy.
"There are so many opportunities," said Gaby Busby. "I'd never seen anything like this before," she said. "
Everybody on her team wants to go into some form of engineering or robotics as a career, she said.
Designing a robot is a lot of trail and error, said Rebecca Olney.
But it's "more common sense than anything," Ryan Knott. "I love it," Knott said. "It's just a fun experience. You meet new people, make new friends," he said.
But it's not easy. Or cheap. "It's a very demanding schedule," said Murphy.
They meet several times a week and sometimes on Saturdays, said Kadlick. "People doing robotics are very dedicated to robotics."
"If you want to do it, you have to be dedicated," said Sessions. "It's a very competitive sport," said Kadlick. And they have about $800 invested in SPAM.
In addiction to the points each team gets during the regular competition, team members are judged on their knowledge of their machine and their engineering notebook. Judges wandered around the competition, interviewing team members.
Many of the TriBots team members are students in Scott Brown's classes at CEC. He teaches pre-engineering, robotics, and drafting. But not everybody is a student of his, and they don't have to be. The club is open to all Coweta School System high schoolers, as well as the students at CEC's Charter College and Career Academy.
Brown's wife, Pam, also helps out. "Mr. and Mrs. Brown to do so much for us," said Busby.
The tournament went very smoothly, said Scott Brown. "It is a lot of work to get ready, to run, and to clean up afterwards but it is worth it," he said. "If it had not been for all of the volunteers we could never pull something like this off."