Sometimes it’s OK to live vicariously through your children — especially if those children are mostly gears and metal. The Centre County 4-H High School Robotics Team spent six weeks worth of labor pains birthing a robot, so you can’t really blame them for having high hopes for the little tyke.
Fortunately for its progenitors, that same robot grew up and made good this past weekend, helping the group advance to the semifinal round of the Greater Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition and win the General Motors Industrial Design Award for best form and function.
“Everyone is really excited about the performance,” Adam Last, a research and development engineer at Penn State’s Applied Research Lab and one of the group’s mentors, said.
The robotics team is comprised entirely of local high school students with a passion for STEM. When they’re not busy designing artificial life, members can be found at outreach events or conducting technology classes.
This is something you need to know because you’re going to be implementing it right now. Adam Last
Last participated on a similar team when he attended high school in Erie. For him, the appeal of a challenge like FIRST is that it places a premium on the here and now.
Knowledge isn’t freeze-dried and placed on the shelf for a later date. Every skill or scrap of data has an immediate purpose.
“This is something you need to know because you’re going to be implementing it right now,” Last said.
Over the weekend, the group’s robotics skills were up against nearly 40 other teams that had assembled from around the globe. There was the Girls of Steel from Pittsburgh, the Hawaiian Kids of Waialua —and who could forget Voyager of the Shenzhen Foreign Languages School in China?
Despite the stiff competition, Centre County 4-H still managed to be one of the four remaining teams left standing come the semifinals.
Points were accrued in the heat of a series of robot on robot challenges that were announced in early January. One required the machines to pick up loose gears and place them neatly on a peg waiting at the other end of the court. Another was as simple — or complicated — as a good old-fashioned rope climb.
There’s always more things than you really can do. Jacob Oakman
Not even a robot can be a Jack of all trades. The team had to pick and choose the skills they wanted to emphasize in their creation.
“There’s always more things than you really can do,” Jacob Oakman, club president said.
Oakman is senior at State College Area High School and has been a part of the robotics team for three years with the hopes of one day pursuing a career in engineering.
Beyond the technical skills, Oakman and his cohorts have learned how to promote themselves and their work. Competing in the FIRST competition is an expensive competition and the team relies on the support of sponsors throughout the community in order to make it happen.
“I used to not be able to do any sort of public speaking but now I’m able to get up in front of complete strangers and ask them for money,” Oakman said.