National robotics design contest challenges high school students

Robotics program for middle school and high school students encourages kids to have fun with engineering.

The Brookfield High School FIRST Robotics Program team (with mentors and captains) earned the Industrial Design Award and placed third in the 2011 national competition. Source: ABB.

Robotics program for middle school and high school students encourages kids to have fun with engineering

March 10-12, 2011 saw the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) regional robotics competition in Milwaukee, WI showcasing the winning team from Brookfield East (B’East) High School. More than 50 regional teams competed for the national grand prize. B’East won the Industrial Design Award and placed third in the national finals.

The Industrial Design Award celebrates form and function in an efficiently designed machine that effectively achieves the game challenge. It is given to the team that best presents and understands the design of their robot, regardless of whether the team wins the grand prize.

The B’East team was mentored and co-sponsored by robotics professionals from ABB’s New Berlin campus. In October 2010, B’East students began training on various shop tools and exploring the previous year’s robot. In January, the annual challenge was released, and teams had until the end of February to design and build their robots.

This year’s challenge was to complete a single task: design a robot to gather inflated rings and place them on pegs at various heights, ranging up to nine feet, then raise the robot itself to 11 feet-a foot higher than a basketball hoop. The task presented a formidable design challenge.

The entire program closely parallels a real-life engineering business, says Rick Hepperla, who is leading the integration of ABB and Baldor. “All teams across the country met at the same date and time to receive and read the specification. They were given parameters-weights and sizes of equipment, what tasks the equipment needs to achieve to score points. And then, the team had to decide what they wanted to excel at-what the trade-offs were to score points. All teams were on the same timeline-six weeks-in which to create their robot and turn it in for testing.”

“The students are required to brainstorm, design, fabricate, program and test the robot,” says Tim Obermann, ABB medium voltage drives electrical engineer and first-time mentor. “The mentors and captains encourage critical thinking and explore the choices the students have made,” he adds.

From conception to final assembly, 1000 man-hours were put into this year’s design. Students met after school and on weekends to create the final robot. “It becomes a family,” says Obermann. “Students come when they can, work together and create something that they can take pride in.”

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