Students take on robots

Published 3:19 pm Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sawdust hovered in the air and Journey played in the background as team members poured over drafts and drilled holes into pieces of an engineering puzzle.

The commotion in the workshop at senior Moriah Snow’s house came from the Oak Mountain High School Robotics Club and a few dedicated adult advisors.

The club is gearing up to compete in the 2008 Blazers BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology) competition Oct. 11 at Bartow Arena.

Advisor Tara Powell is a substitute teacher at OMHS. She said the project takes learning to new depths outside the classroom.

“One, they’re learning to put a robot together, but they’re learning the engineering design process, and they’re learning something about real world processes,” Powell said.

For this game, students must learn how robots can be a solution to complicated problems in the aviation industry.

Each team receives an identical kit of parts to build a robot that fits into a 24-inch cube, weighs no more than 24 pounds, can travel the width of the field in 45 seconds and has a minimum reach of 38 inches. They then must put that robot to the test on a 24-by-24-foot obstacle course in Bartow Arena.

Each robot has to follow a course, picking up pieces of an airplane along the way. The robot must then put the plane together and attempt to place it on dowels hanging at different heights from the ceiling. Varying points are awarded for different achievements along the way.

Jim Carman, an engineer with Southern Company, participates with his son, who is home-schooled. He said it provides a real world education for the kids involved.

“There is just so much hands–on stuff that you can only get doing it hands on,” Carmen said. “You can learn about building a house, you can learn about doing things reading a book, but until you nail the nails and put all the pieces together, it’s just not the same.”

Students not only have to design and construct the robot, they also must market their product.

They achieve this by breaking the group up into sub–teams who create Power Point presentations, engineering notebooks detailing every step of the process.

“I want them to walk away with perhaps a better idea of what engineering is about, what marketing is about, so that they can enter college with a better idea of what they want to do,” Powell said.

Powell’s son, Tanner, was one of the founding members of the Robotics Club at OMHS. He said he and other friends realized that clubs at the school weren’t peaking their interest so they created their own.

“We literally finished the robot by 11:35 or 12 o’clock (the night before) in last year’s competition,” Tanner Powell said. “It was interesting. We had an entirely untested wheel and hub design … hopefully, this year we’ll do a little bit better.”

The team placed fifth out of 18 teams last year. This year, 24 teams signed up to show off their engineering skills. If OMHS wins this competition,they will advance to the regional competition at Auburn University in December to face winners from the Tennessee Valley, Jubilee (Mobile) and Alabama BEST (Auburn) hubs.

Sponsors of the program include: Here is a list of our sponsors as well:

PlanTech LLP, EBSCO Industries Inc., National Utility Equipment Company LLC, Aerial Experts, Airgas, Metro Truck Rental, Aerial South, IEEE – Birmingham Section, Piggly Wiggly of Columbiana, Margarita Grill, Jim N Nick’s, Southeastern Jewelers, Allure Salon, Lucky Bucks, Pak Mail on Valleydale

Charles and Huey Clark, and Bill and Peggy Luke.