Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive March 2014 Show 1411 Robotics: On the Road to OKC

Robotics: On the Road to OKC

Working with professional engineers and other mentors, students design, build and program robots for competition.
Robotics: On the Road to OKC

Robotics: On the Road to OKC

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Show Details

Show 1411: Robotics: On the Road to OKC
Air Date: March 16, 2014



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.