By Larry Chanin, Vilseck High SchoolMay 20, 2014
VILSECK, Germany -- In late April, the Vilseck High School Robotic Team brought their robots and engineering talents to the world championship robotics competition in St. Louis, Missouri.
Over 600 robotic teams competed, with 128 teams at the First Tech Challenge level. The teams were split into two divisions, each consisting of 64 teams.
I was very proud of our team, not just for what they accomplished, but for all the unexpected challenges they had to overcome.
At the airport before we left Germany on April 21, we were told that our robot exceeded the weight limit.
So, the robotics team pit crew went to work to reduce the weight. We were in the middle of the airport, removing parts from the robot to reduce weight, but we couldn't get it light enough. With 30 minutes left before flight time, I ran robot in hand across the airport, getting lots of strange looks, to a luggage store.
We shoved the robot into two suitcases and ran to customs, where a student had several robot parts and our tools confiscated at security.
When we arrived in St. Louis, the bad luck continued.
While reassembling the robot during practice, we discovered the wireless module on the competition site would not pick up the signal from our robot. It had worked in Germany. We tinkered with it for an hour with no success. Even our backup module failed. We simply had to hope it would work during the competition.
The next day we checked in and passed all the inspections. During the judge's interview, the team handled themselves professionally.
Now it was time to show off our robots. Everything was set, the robots in place, but when the button was pushed and our robot did not move.
We waited. The robot sat there for 30 long seconds, then two grueling minutes. We summoned the pit crew and programmers to take a look. Apparently, a wire disconnected when the battery was installed, a careless error. The robot performed flawlessly the next practice round.
Two days of qualifying matches started the next morning. On the first day, we were plagued with problems and won only one out of five matches.
The second day was better. We won all four matches, elevating our standing from 62nd to 27th place.
I have been asked many times, why do I do robotics. The season lasts eight months and requires a lot of time and effort to make the program successful.
But in all my years as an educator, I would say that this is one of the most intensive and challenging educational experiences I have had the privilege to be part of.
It exposes the students to real world situations, extensive problem solving challenges, and the need for team work. I believe that the experiences that they gain from being part of this robotic engineering program will steer them on a path to a better and brighter future.
I also have no doubt that one of these kids will develop or design something to better our world. I guess you can say I do this for selfish reasons; I also see this as an investment in my future.
As a friend, who also runs a robotics' club, likes to say, "Take my class and save the world."