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Building A Better Robot – Meet The Lakerbots

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“Lakerbots” prepare their robotic design for competition.

When their regular day of classes is over, a small group of Triangle Lake Charter School students head for the shop building to work on an extracurricular team project – designing a robot that can compete in a predetermined challenge. They call themselves “Lakerbots” and they’ll have the chance to prove their teamwork and robotic engineering skills on Feb. 18, when they take their robot to Wilsonville for Round 1 of the 2014 FIRST Robotics Aerial Assist Competition.

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Clockwise from bottom left: Hunter Davis, Joseph Drexler, Lily Beck, Makena Pennel, Noah Alley, Angel Ferrell, Scott Sinclair, Austin Carlson and Gordon Santana. Not pictured is Jesse Newman, the team’s lead programmer, who was at home with the flu. | Photo Rob Lafferty

With support from the NASA Robotics Alliance project, the FIRST Robotics challenge is an international program designed to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science and technology.

The challenge this year consists of two teams of three robots each trying to outscore the other team by directing a large inflatable ball into goals set at ground level and at six feet above the arena. A blend of soccer and basketball skills are required for the robot to score points during each 2.5-minute game. Points are also given for passing the ball and assisting another robot to score.

The students have done all the design and assembly on the prototype and will finish it on their own. They all are earning extracurricular credit for their work on the project.

Sophomores Lily Beck and Noah Alley are the only team members with experience in robotics competition. Beck was at Thurston High last year when their team competed in a smaller league, and Alley has been to the OSU Leho Camp, where they built smaller versions of the larger robots in the FIRST competition.

“I come from a mechanical family,” said Alley, who has taken a lead role in the fabrication of the robot. “My dad is a mechanic, so I’ve always been taking stuff apart and putting it back together.”

| photo by Rob Lafferty
Once the electronics are all function correctly, the students will connect the arms that will control the ball. The Lakerbot will need to be able to steer the ball into a goal as well as pass it through the air towards another robot. | photo by Rob Lafferty

“We also need to market our team in order to be part of an alliance, and live up to FIRST motto of ‘gracious professionalism’,” said Beck.

“That part of the competition is bigger than you might think. I learned that you need to be nice to everyone whether you win or get your butt kicked.”

Senior Scott Sinclair was described by his colleagues as being the brains of the team.

“I enjoy engineering, and I’m thinking about working as a civil engineer in the future,” he said. “Part of our challenge is deciding which of the different ways to score points is best for us to design towards.”

The team works collaboratively and makes decisions by consensus, a process that has gone smoothly according to sophomore Angel Ferrell.

“We don’t have too many opposing views on what we should do. We do bump heads sometimes, but we always work it out.”

The youngest team members are middle-schoolers Hunter Davis and Joseph Drexler.

“I wanted to learn how to design things,” said Drexler when asked why he got involved in the project. “Plus, I had nothing else to do right now.”

“I just liked the idea of making and building robots,” Davis said.

| photo by Rob Lafferty
The size and weight of the official ball is an important element that Beck, Pennel, Ferrell and Sinclair needed to factor into their design. | photo by Rob Lafferty

The Lakerbots may place their pride on the line when their robot enters the arena, but they’ll also have a chance to earn college scholarships offered by Oregon State University, Pacific University, Portland State University, the Oregon Institute of Technology and the University of Portland.

Last week they received some experienced help from the Triangle Lake community, as local residents Spencer Hollinger brought his experience with software and Fred Burkert lent his expertise in fabrication. They joined Industrial Arts teacher Darrell Rothauge and the school’s IT consultant Sam Robinson to try and solve a communication problem between the electronic devices that control the robot’s movement.

Once the robot is complete, Rothauge plans to have the team demonstrate it at halftime of a Laker basketball game, where all students and the community will get a first look at their newest school athlete. Team member Makena Pennel is posting progress reports and photos online in a Lakerbot blog she created at lakerbot.weebly.com.

The Team Logo: The kids are quite proud of their graphic design
The Team Logo: The kids are quite proud of their graphic design

Rob Lafferty lists 'former newspaper reporter and editor' as just one of many items in a strangely diverse resume. He works from home in the Coast Range near Triangle Lake, doing print production for local publications, writing political commentary for Allvoices.com, and generally hanging out in the woods with his wife Karen and their family of dogs.

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