Seymour robotics team to enter creation in regional event

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 12:13 AM

The Eagletrons, a robotics team at Seymour High School (SHS), have now completed the robot they will take to the Smoky Mountain Regional of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), to be held in Knoxville March 28-30.

Diane Humphrey, chemistry teacher and team leader who now teaches a class on the scientific principals robotics, said the team, made up of 34 students, worked seven days a week for six weeks to finish the robot for the Frisbee-themed "Ultimate Ascent" competition.

"(This year's theme) is complicated, the most complicated in the three years we've been doing it," Humphrey said. "It's themed around throwing Frisbees through targets at the end of a field, with three different heights of targets. The other difficult part is, the robot has to climb a pyramid."

The Eagletrons began building the robot Jan. 2 after receiving the kit from FIRST containing industrial-quality materials, but no instructions. The team set out brainstorming to come up with a design for the robot, then drew out the designs using computer software.

"Everything we built was from scratch. We make our own chassis — one of the things we do really well — out of aluminum, and then put on the wheels and electronic board," Humphrey said. "We are climbing with two claw systems operated by hydrolic motors, and we have a system to retrieve and deposit the Frisbees."

Once they began fabricating it, a separate part of the team worked on the programming.

"The programmers basically give the robot the brain, make it move and do different things autonomously," said SHS junior Eric Auel, Humphrey's teaching assistant in the robotics class and head of the Eagletrons programming team.

Auel said the engineers had the hardest job this year because of all the restrictions and stipulations.

"There were a lot of different challenges to overcome to complete the goals, and we had different rules we had to follow. The engineers had to design the robot to be under the weight limit as well as climb 90 inches off the ground," Auel said.

The team gets points for climbing the pyramid at different heights, and if the robot operates autonomously — that is, on its own, without students controlling it.

"We've been able to do all of these things," Humphrey said.

Another part of the team handles the business side of things, including securing sponsors.

"This year they made a promotional DVD, talked to potential sponsors about what we're all about," Humphrey said. "We put together sponsor packets that we mailed to potential sponsors, and we were able to get a pretty substantial amount of donations."

Two of the sponsors, Advanced Catalyst Systems and King Machine & Welding, allowed the team to perform its welding and fabrication at their facilities. The team also rented space at Clubfit 101 to assemble the rest of the robot.

Although about 10 professional mentors, either engineers or businesspeople in the field, mentor the Eagletrons, the actual work is done by the students, all of which contributes to the goal of the experience.

"They learn how to operate as a team, under significant time constraints and intellectual constrains, to build something that's industrial quality," Humphrey said. "They get real-world experience with equipment that's exactly what they would see in robotics, and they get to work one-on-one with professionals who are already working in the field."

"As a programmer, I've learned different programming techniques and different ways to come up with a solution to a problem, but you also have to learn to work in a group," Auel said. "You can't do stuff on your own; you have to help other people and let them help you to accomplish that complicated goal."

Even though their competition isn't until the end of March, the Eagletrons had to stop building by Feb. 19, the set ending date for all teams. Different teams will compete on different dates, and Humphrey said 55 teams from locations as far as Canada would be competing against the Eagletrons.

If they win the regional, the Eagletrons will travel to St. Louis for an international competition at the end of April.

"And if we won that, then we'd be really happy," Humphrey said.

But for now, they wait.

rhargett@themountainpress.com