Robotics team wins 2 first-place awards

Published on Sunday, 1 December 2013 23:23 - Written by BETTY WATERS

BROWNSBORO — They called themselves the Big Bucks. In keeping with their name, they used software and components from a Lego NXT kit to design and build a robot that looked like a deer.

Sixth-graders Bryce Smith, Gage Wehrmann, Colton Williams and Ethan Parker spent about two months in sessions after school, some days before school and even coming on a Sunday afternoon, to figure out how to build the robot.

The team of Brownsboro Intermediate School pupils designed, built, decorated and programmed their robot to explore a course that simulated Yellowstone National Park on a 4-by-4-foot competition board.

It beat out other East Texas schools in the middle school division of the 2013 regional robotics contest in Lufkin sponsored by Region VII Education Service Center, capturing two first-place awards for Engineer’s Choice and Engineering Notebook.

Their three-motor chassis robot had a tail, antlers and eyes of a deer. It had to complete several tasks to earn points in the contest and was able to scoop things up.

“These are hard-working boys; they don’t shun work,” said Betty Eberhart, who teaches the Brownsboro students in a gifted class and presented the boys with the challenge of entering the contest.

She heard about the contest in a Region VII workshop and said she is always trying to find something that would be of interest to her students.

“They did a lot of research and a lot of thought,” she said. “They showed persistence. … They learned you don’t give up when something doesn’t work. They tried to find out what was wrong, and what would work. From the failures, they learned you learn from your mistakes, and they succeeded.”

Williams, the builder, said, “We all pitched in. … It took many hours. I enjoyed making it, programming it, and since we’ve all grown up together, we work together good. Programming was the most challenging part of it.”

The experience, Smith predicted, will help them if they want to be an engineer because now they know how to program a robot and how it works. He was the writer for the project.

He added that he liked the challenge of building and trying to program the robot.

“It was cool learning how to program it and how to build it and learning about Yellowstone National Park,” he said.

Parker, the programmer, said it helped him in social studies because he learned a lot about Yellowstone National Park and places in the park.

Wehrmann, who was the team captain, said, “I think it will help us know how to work together in the long run. It was fun hanging out with the guys. We’ve been friends for a long time.”

Robots in the contest were judged for overall appearance, technical design, stability, originality, component placement and cohesiveness.

The boys had to keep a journal recording every detail of progress during their work sessions. Their notebook also had to contain entries regarding the history, features and general information they learned during research of Yellowstone National Park.

The boys had to first design a robot that could complete given tasks, download programs, test and modify each until they got the desired result, Ms. Eberhart said.

Building and programming the robot to complete the required tasks, she added, involved looking at why something did not work and making adjustments, timing, calculations and planning.

The team members tried 20 programs before they got one that would follow a designated line in the contest.

Building the robot, Ms. Eberhart said, made them thinkers and problem-solvers and team workers.

To be eligible to join the robotics team, the pupils had to have been screened and identified as gifted and participate in the Brownsboro Intermediate School’s program for gifted and talented students.

But building the robot was not part of their regular school classes. It was something extra that the boys were willing to take on, Ms. Eberhart said.

“These are really bright boys, and they are very competitive,” she said. “We need people that are not afraid to go that extra mile. If something didn’t work, they didn’t give up; they tried to find out what was wrong.”

Brownsboro ISD Superintendent Dr. Chris Moran said, “I am thrilled for the Big Bucks, their parents and Ms. Eberhart. Opportunities like robotics are what shape the character we seek to instill in every one of our students. The collaboration and teamwork being developed will translate into the workplace, home and future of these fine young men.”