TUPELO – Tupelo Middle School’s Golden Wave Robotics Club crafted a battery-powered robot, aptly named Roboto, for the Mississippi BEST Robotics competition at Mississippi State University starting Friday night – all in six weeks.
Amber Jones, eighth-grade science teacher and team sponsor of the Robotics Club, attended a robotics conference in Dallas, bringing back ideas to create the first-ever middle school robotics team in the district.
Before Roboto was a twinkle in its creators’ eyes, BEST Robotics competition unveiled the challenge called Pay Dirt six weeks ago.
“It’s put into a mining situation where the mine is too dangerous to send people into, so they have to construct a robot that is able to go in and collect things,” Jones said. “You have to retrieve materials like coal - knock it down, scoop it up and bring it back.”
Critical trial and error
The competition provided all the materials needed to build Roboto, but students, like Gray Tucker, 13, and Rahul Dey, 13, learned how to program without an instructor's manual.
“We learned by trial and error,” Dey said while making Roboto drive in circles with a remote control. “We saw what worked and what didn't so we could fix it.”
Gray joined the team after taking an Excel technology class last year.
“Making something that can move and do stuff is cool,” he said. “It’s a relief to have it finished. I think maybe the week before last, we didn’t even have it finished.”
During the design process, students used quick problem solving to adjust Roboto to keep its wheels rolling – literally.
“Once we started using it, we saw that the wheel wasn’t working. The wheels kept turning, but (Roboto) wasn’t moving, so they had to make changes,” Jones said. “We’ve had some trouble with the bucket, so the kids made adjustments to that.”
Beside programming and designing, team members like Lydia Billips, 13, completed a marketing package and researched mines.
“We looked up different ores like aluminum,” she said. “We research coal because that’s really what it’s about it. We made the robot to where it would be able to go into a coal mine, and we learned that coal mines are very tight, so we had to make it small enough to where people couldn’t go.”
Even if they don’t win amongst the 19 teams of mostly high schools, Nathan Keen, 13, still had fun learning about the ups and downs of robot design.
“Hopefully we do well, but even if we don’t, it’s all about having fun,” he said. “It’s just so interesting, and there are so many new things coming out.”
Mere hours before the competition, Jones said designing Roboto uncovered skills the students may be interested in later on in their careers.
“Students like Gray, he’s found that software design is totally cool,” Jones said. “It’s making them think. They are finding things on their own, and a lot of it is on their own.”
Throughout their time working on Roboto, Jones said the students are able to work successfully in group settings.
“The brainstorming aspect has been huge,” Jones said. “It’s fun to sit back and watch them bounce ideas off each other.”
Tia Green, eighth-grade science teacher and co-sponsor, said Roboto opens up a student’s engineering and mathematical mind.
“A lot of kids who are into engineering and mathematics like to isolate themselves,” Green said. “This allows them to work in groups and not work in isolation to see how fun it can be.”
Green said she has seen quiet students speak up and be more social.
“They are amazing because they never thought they could do this,” she said. “It’s exciting watching the kids mature in this process and seeing what they can actually do.”