Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive March 2014 Show 1411 Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1411

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1411

This week on Oklahoma Horizon, we take a look at FIRST Robotics, an innovative program that’s getting students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1411

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1411


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Oklahoma FIRST Robotics

FIRST Robotics

FIRST Lego League

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Show Details

Show 1411: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: March 16, 2014



Rob McClendon: Here is what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” Today we follow some Oklahoma students as they compete against some of the greatest young minds from around the world in a program called First Robotics. We will show you how in just six weeks a bag of steel and bolts turns into a fully functioning robot and students turn into future engineers and scientists. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Female Announcer: Oklahoma’s investment in CareerTech provides more than nationally recognized technology education and training. It produces solid financial returns for the state’s economic future. Oklahoma CareerTech, elevating our economy.

Male Announcer: And the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things. And now, from the CareerTech studios in Stillwater, here’s your host, Rob McClendon.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, it’s been over two decades since a technology entrepreneur decided the best way to attract young people into the fields of science and technology is to make it cool. Every year thousands of young minds compete in a program called First Robotics, the largest and most prestigious robotics competition of its kind.

Dean Kaman: It seemed to me that what we needed to do to get First going was to break the stereotypical mindset given to kids about what’s important in their culture. Let these kids that have never met a scientist or a professional engineer see what these people do. Put those people and ideas in front of these kids. You’ll change where they put their time and attention, and you’ll change the outcome. You’ll change what they’ll be when they're 17.

Rob: And so First Robotics was born. Beginning early this year we followed several Oklahoma teams trying to make their way to what is known as the Super Bowl of Smarts. When we return we begin that exciting journey.

Male Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon,” featuring some of the good things that are happening in the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Well, the road to the world championship for robotics is intense and challenging. This past year, two of our producers followed several Oklahoma teams as they prepared for the Oklahoma City regional in hopes of making it all the way to the final competition. Here is our Andy Barth and Alisa Hines.

Andy Barth: It’s been called NASCAR for robots, high school students working together to create a machine that will navigate obstacles and perform tasks while competing against other bots. But for these students, work began months before.

Courtney Smith: It’s really fun, and you get to know a lot of really cool people.

Alisa Hines: Courtney Smith is a senior at Northeast Academy in Oklahoma City and is co-captain for her first robotics team and says this competition plays to her strengths.

Courtney: It’s one of the funnest things I’ve done. I’m learning, I’m actually building things with my hands instead of writing down the equations for doing it all on paper, which I like that too because I like math and I’m good at it, but I like the mechanics a lot better. I want to become a mechanical engineer. So that involves the equations and all that, but it also involves using your hands and physically building everything, which is what I really like.

Andy: And for her coach Jonathan Roberts, this competition serves students well beyond the classroom.

Jonathan Roberts: Students that are involved outside the classroom are going to be much more engaged even in the class and I really think that’s going to translate over into their college career. They’re going to, you know, they are going to be able to be more involved in some of the extracurriculars there.

Alisa: And Courtney says while the technical side comes easy, working with others is another story.

Courtney: Well, it’s teamwork. You have to have a team. You can’t do it on your own. And I’m not the best at actually working with other people, but after we all, if we all know what we are doing and all know our jobs and focus on our jobs, then I’m really good at working with other people.

Andy: Eric Watson is the team’s other co-captain and says teamwork is a skill to be learned.

Eric Watson: I’m the kind of person that if there’s a project, if I can do it myself, or if I feel like I can, I will. I would just take over, and I wouldn’t talk to people. And I couldn’t do that in this circumstance. I had to tell what I was thinking. I had to speak to my teammates.

Alisa: And across town, the Ninja Munkees are learning it takes everybody to be a team.

Hunter Smith: Working with people has been a really big thing with this because when you’re on a team there are, there’s, at times there’s people you don’t enjoy working with and there’s people you do enjoy working with, and you have to learn how to work with different types of people.

Alisa: This is Hunter Smith’s fourth year to build a robot.

Hunter: Oh, it’s fun, you know. You learn a lot. It’s more gratifying than doing other sports. I mean, I actually guess now probably use this as a life skill. Not only just working with these tools but learning the engineering stuff. I mean you can actually use this in the real world as a job as opposed to being the one in a million maybe making it into any kind of sport. I mean there’s almost no chance of most people making it into any kind of sports. But this, you actually gain skills that could be used as a job.

Andy: Students aren’t the only ones involved in the competition. Mentors are there to help guide students in the process.

Larry McWilliams: It’s a mentor-based competition. They make it hard on purpose so that you have to have mentors in industry come and work alongside these kids.

Andy: Larry McWilliams is a Ninja Munkee mentor and says it’s fun for everyone.

Larry: It’s a fantastic experience. I really enjoy it. I enjoy watching these kids learn. It’s something I wish I could have done when I was their age. Nothing like this existed. Computers weren’t really around. I enjoy being with these kids and helping them learn and seeing the light bulb go off above their head.

Austin Clark: My goal tonight is to hopefully get a Frisbee shooter or a Frisbee launcher working. Or at least a prototype, so we can test one or two different types to see which ones will fit on our robot and which ones will work the best.

Alisa: For Ninja Munkee Austin Clark, being a rookie means learning quickly and on the go.

Austin: It took us longer to get our bot done because especially, you know, me and my brother were new, and there’s a lot of new people on the team. So it took time just to get everybody up to speed with what you need to do.

Alisa: And while some groups have veterans on the team, others are doing this for the first time. This is Oologah high school’s first year in the competition. With a little sawing, some drilling and a lot of opinions, this swim noodle is now a bumper.

Seth Moody: I signed up to do the bumpers, and the bumpers are a big part of the robot. So, I’ve been kind of heading that and helping with that. So that’s really fun.

Andy: Seth Moody is an eighth-grader and the youngest member on the team, while Seth Aston is a senior. But no matter the age, it’s all about problem-solving.

Seth Aston: I really like thinking about how we have this problem and then how we’re going to implement some of the tools and maybe some of the materials we have to solve it.

Andy: And coach Danny Pruett says there is a lot of pride on the team.

Danny Pruett: These kids are very proud of what they’ve accomplished, and proud of their project, proud of the robot itself. It does work. We’re a little bit concerned on whether or not it will work the entire time, you know, and how we’re going to deal with that, you know, and be able to fix those solutions. But we’re excited.

Alisa: This is a competition not just for the big kids. Down the road, Junior LEGO League is for those just a bit younger. Meet the Rainbow Robots, little girls trying to solve a big engineering problem. According to their coach, Ray Shaik, it’s really brain Olympics at work, designed to get kids interested in engineering, sometimes before they even start school.

Ramier Shaik: First, it’s basically letting them play and not putting a lot of pressure on them. The competition is about having fun, just getting them slowly introduced to the concepts.

Alisa: But as Veronica can tell you, there is a purpose besides just play. Using LEGOs, they’re designing a city that’s elderly friendly.

Veronica Stevens: We’re trying to help seniors to get engaged and connected.

Andy: Using LEGOs and moving robotic parts, the girls have to come up with their own ideas in how to put it together.

Hal Stevens: The girls range from 5 to 8. And basically we give them a little guidance, and then we let their imaginations run wild and they come up with all kinds of things.

Andy: Coach Hal Stevens says at this age, it’s not always easy.

Hal: Some of the things are a little off-base, a little crazy, but we let them go with it anyways so they find out themselves, “Oh, it sounded good when I said it, but it doesn’t quite work out that way when I try and make it.” And it’s amazing though of all the things that they come up with, how much of it they actually get to produce and work and it’s actually functional. And in that sense, as a parent and as a coach on the team, I’m just amazed at the creativity of the girls.

Andy: Even more amazing is the girls even thought about how to power their little town. Rafah Shaik is the oldest girl on the team.

Rafah Shaik: Well, the windmill generates energy to the train, and also in our city we have lights. And it also generates electricity, energy, I mean, to the lights.

Alisa: Coach Ray says these girls are growing up as digital natives, so using technology is a given.

Ramier: We are moving the people mover with an Android app. So that puts it right back into their world of technology which is, well, we don’t have this old coach teaching us how to build with LEGOs when this is all outdated. So they’re saying, you know, “Wow, our technology is being used to drive some of this processors. We can do this with iPads and iPhones and Androids.”

Alisa: But it’s not always easy.

Rafah: We’re going to be at our table which is going to be a small table and then we’re going to.

Veronica: Let me put it this way, everything’s going to break once we get there.

Alisa: All on the road to competition.

Rob: Well, joining me now are our producers who worked on the story, Andy Barth and Alisa Hines. Well, first of all, those little girls, absolutely darling. But I do want to ask you, how long does it take them to build one of these robots?

Alisa: From start to finish, six weeks. They get their kit of parts, and then they have to decide who’s going to do what, what they are going to build, how they are going to build it and then hope they get it done in six weeks.

Andy: Absolutely, and then aside from the building the actual robot, safety manuals have to be written, a promotional campaign must be created, so it’s a very in-depth process, and it really takes a team.

Rob: And at the end of the six weeks, what happens?

Alisa: Well they bag and tag it and keep their fingers crossed that when they send it to regional nothing gets broke.

Rob: And where was regional?

Andy: Regional was in Oklahoma City. It’s a three-day event, and people come from across the state to help cheer on their school’s robot.

Andy Barth: It’s opening day at Oklahoma City’s First Robotics competition, and Oologah High School is still tweaking their first ever entry. I talked to you a few weeks ago about preparing for your very first competition. Now that you’re here what is your impression?

Danny Pruett: This is awesome. I mean, I do, I take kids to a lot of different things, and I have over my career. But this is the coolest thing I think I’ve ever had the chance to do.

Andy: And once in the arena, when everything else started moving, Oologah’s robot did nothing.

Danny: Our programming just went blank. We’ve been troubleshooting that. We knew that we were going to have problems when we came; we just didn’t know that it was going to totally flip on us like what we did.

Andy: So it’s time to tinker, trying to get their robot fully functional.

Danny: We finally got that taken care of so everything is working properly now. But we adapted to that when we were in. We went from trying to score points to trying to play defense and adapted to what we needed to do. And then be able to come back here, each time we came back in here we worked that same problem on the programming, and now we think we’ve got it. So now our strategy is to go out and show everybody that what we said that the robot will do, it will actually do.

Andy: Technical difficulties are just part of the experience. Eric Watson from Northeastern Academy says in the arena when their wiring malfunctioned, they found themselves playing defense.

Eric Watson: We’ve had problems after problems, but it’s all about the experience of changing, of learning, of progressing.

Alisa Hines: It’s the fourth year for the Ninja Munkees to compete in the Oklahoma City regional, last year making it all the way to the world championship. But today, their luck runs out. For Hunter Smith, winning isn’t everything.

Hunter Smith: I have friends here. It’s a social thing. I get to hang out with my friends, get to build stuff. We get to stay up really late and complain about stuff when it doesn’t work to each other and get it to work. It can be more challenging than any other sport, but it’s so much fun, so rewarding.

Alisa: Three separate teams with an all too similar, frustrating experience. Yet despite the challenges, each agree robotics are helping them climb to new aspirations.

Rob: So I take it it was kind of a tough day at the Oklahoma City regional?

Andy: It was; all the teams we followed really put in a lot of hard work on their projects, but it’s regionals and there’s a lot of really good competition, and unfortunately none of the teams we followed qualified out of Oklahoma City.

Rob: Now, Alisa, you mentioned aspirations at the end of the story. What are some of the aspirations of students you talked to have?

Alisa: Well, going into this, many of them didn’t even think about engineering as a career. But once they started working on the robots, found out how fun it was and the fact that they could do it, now many of them are actually thinking about engineering.

Andy: And we have to remember, these are high-tech machines being built by students. And once they figure that they can, one, build a robot, and then two, program it to do what they want it to do, they have a whole new sense of self-confidence as engineers.

Rob: And you know something I was struck by is despite things not going exactly as planned, none of these students seemed too despondent.

Alisa: No, there is so much energy and excitement at this event. It’s very hard to stay down for very long. And on top of that, they have other teams that they’ve competed with that they have to cheer them on too.

Andy: You know it’s so exciting, and there is such a sense of friendly competition. And you really can’t experience it unless you’ve been there. And everybody needs to experience it for themselves.

Alisa: Absolutely.

Rob: And what about our little Rainbow Robots; how did they do?

Alisa: Well, their competition is a little bit different. They really compete against themselves to see how well they do in front of the judges presenting their project and their ideas. And the girls simply wowed the judges and earned a place at world.

Rob: All right. Well, congratulations to them. And we will follow them to the world competition as well as a surprise entry.

Rob McClendon: Well, you can keep up with us throughout the week. Just head to, where you can see more of any of our stories, read our reporters’ behind the scenes blogs, see what others are saying about us on Twitter and face the facts with our regular updates. So reach out and touch us anywhere and anytime.

Rob McClendon: Well, this year’s world competition brought in teams from all around the globe to Saint Louis, Mo., the absolute best and the brightest from around the planet, one of which was Oklahoma’s own little Rainbow Robots.

Alisa Hines: Welcome to St. Louis, Mo. Four hundred teams from around the world, including the Rainbow Robots. Dressed in their rainbow tutus, the girls start putting their project together. And despite Veronica’s previous worries –

Veronica Stevens: Let me put it this way, everything’s going to break once we get there.

Alisa: -- all it’s taking is a little teamwork to assemble. And now it’s time for showing off their ideas.

Hal Stevens: And it’s amazing how the kids don’t really see it from an adult point of view. They don’t really see it as, “Oh, it’s us against them.” They see it as, “Wow, they did something really neat. That’s really cool. Maybe we can learn from that and do that next time when we build something.”

Alisa: And such camaraderie is even evident when they present before the judges. An excitement not just about their project, but what they learned while doing it.

Ramier Shaik: They told me even before that they want to be engineers now. So the prospect, the whole prospect that they are thinking about their careers when they’re 4, 5 years old, and they see a viable career in engineering or they can see themselves doing this itself is, you know, mind blowing, right?

Andy Barth: Which is a pretty common sentiment at the world competition.

David Barlow: I think it’s pretty exciting. It’s huge compared to what I thought it would be.

Andy: David Barlow is from the Metal Mayhem team, sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation.

David: You see so many different robots. I mean, you see a lot at regionals and stuff. But whenever you get to world, I mean, there’s just overwhelming about how much technology is all around you. And then it’s just the size of this competition is just amazing.

Andy: And what goes up, sometimes must come down.

Alisa: So what’s wrong with it?

David: It was too high and too tall. Like whenever it’s at a certain position, this top right here which folds down, didn’t fold down far enough. So what we have to do is we have to lower this top chassis, so that way whenever it folds down it’ll be low enough.

Andy: With a little elbow grease, they’re back to the competition. The Chickasaw Nation is one of nine Oklahoma teams competing with regional winners worldwide.

Alisa: And in a surprising twist, even though Oologah High School didn’t win at the Oklahoma regional, they did win Best Rookie Team at the Arkansas regional, earning them a place at world.

Ryan Anderson: It feels amazing to be here. Everyone’s been great. This whole competition has been an amazing experience. I couldn’t imagine, I couldn’t imagine not doing it now after going through it.

Alisa: Warhorse co-captain Ryan Anderson.

Ryan: This competition doesn’t compare to regionals at all. It’s, I mean, first of all there’s 60 different countries here. It’s amazing sitting there with a Canadian team right next to us and a team from Istanbul across from us. And there’s so many teams here that we’ve come across in all of our regional events, and it’s so different, it’s, it’s insane. It’s honestly insane.

Andy: Teams from everywhere, but with one thing in common, making technology fun. Reagan Coates is a student at Gordon Cooper Tech Center and a member of team Sprockets.

Reagan Coates: Ah, it’s crazy. With a whole lot of teams, it’s a lot bigger than our regional.

Coach: And it’s so crazy, he’s got to go drive.

Reagan: Yeah!

Andy: So off to the arena to shoot it out. For Central Tech’s Oklahoma Storm, life in the arena isn’t going so well, and mentor Shane Bruce says the day could definitely be better.

Shane Bruce: It’s been an uphill battle. We come in, started real well, and then things started breaking on our robot. I mean physically break. We’ve had welds break, bearings popping off of wheels, just freak accidents. So we just keep climbing uphill but the kids are staying with it, so that’s the main thing, they’re learning from it.

Andy: Michael Tillett is with the Tri County Tech Center’s Trailblazer team and says repairs are just part of the game.

Michael Tillett: We’ve been doing really well. We had one scare when our robot encoder that controls the RPM of the wheel on our shooter actually just pretty much shattered, and so we had to go through and rework that. And we didn’t completely fix it, but we came up with a solution that works. And so that’s where we’re at, at this point.

Andy: And as Team Warhorse found out firsthand, things don’t always go your way, even the referee’s calls.

Ryan: That should have been a technical foul. They did not call it during the match. But he agreed with us afterwards that it should have been called. So we should have won that match by 19 points. But he said that they cannot change the score. He said it’s too late.

Alisa: And while nine Oklahoma teams made it to the world competition, no one qualified for the finals. And despite the frustrations along the way, their teachers say what they’ve learned throughout the whole process is more important than winning.

Danny: The hands-on learning where it brings in the science, the technology, the engineering and the math, facilitates the science, the technology, the engineering and the math.

Kristi Stricklin: It’s everything about STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These kids all come to our academy and that’s what they take. They get to see the real principles, the engineering principles applied in making it. They also learn great communication skills, which all STEM majors have to do. They have to make presentations and things like that. So it’s all about STEM.

David: I had a pretty good idea of wanting to go to OSU. But I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to go into mechanical engineering. Whenever I got started with First, and FRC, it actually sort of just told me, “OK, mechanical engineering is pretty cool! I think this would be a good idea and a good plan for me in the future.”

Andy: Well, now these teams have learned so much and have gone through some good times and rough times. Halfway through his first year, Oologah coach Danny Pruett told his wife he would never do this again. Now, after the competition, he can’t wait for next year.

Rob: So what’s up for the rest of the teams?

Alisa: Well, kind of back to the drawing board. You know they’ve seen how people put robots together, and they’re going to take some of those ideas and try to figure out how they can put it into their robot next year. The catch is, they have absolutely no idea what next year’s going to be about. In the past they’ve had to put balls on top of racks, they’ve had to put tires onto targets, and this year they had to climb a tower and shoot Frisbees. But next year, who knows?

Rob: Well, I certainly appreciate the work all of you all put in, and also a big special thanks goes out to the teams that let us follow them throughout. Thank you, guys.

Alisa: You’re welcome.

Rob McClendon: Spring has sprung. Next time on Oklahoma Horizon, we’ll look at spring storm preparedness.

We could have a tornado tomorrow, and in Oklahoma, and we just want to make sure that we’re taking care of consumers.

Rob: Plus we’ll look at third grade reading requirements and new veteran jobs; on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, Oklahoma Horizon.

Rob: Well, we are out of time. I’m Rob McClendon. Thanks for watching. See you back here next time.