Innovative robots, built by students
Veronica makes a striking first impression.
She’s a short, 80-pound, three foot-long robot with six wheels and a transparent case full of wires, blinking lights and seemingly random electronic components. But since her special abilities are hidden inside, you might initially mistake her for a brick on wheels. That’s definitely not the case. Veronica’s front panel can swing out to become a manipulating lever, and a hollow spot inside is just big enough for the robot to engulf a large ball. After careful aiming, Veronica can blast out the ball like a pitching machine and hit the top of a 7-foot wall. And every inch of her was designed, built and programmed by high school students.
Veronica is just one of the latest creations from Cascia Hall’s five FIRST Robotics Competition teams. These teams, which have grown in size since Cascia Hall started participating in 2012, have students like rising sophomore Douglas Kinnaman hooked. “It’s the ability to put everything together and play with it,” he said.
FIRST, an acronym meaning “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” tasks teams with building a robot with the right equipment and programming to overcome a series of obstacles. For example, not only was Veronica designed to hurl a ball, she’s short enough to clear a low bar and sturdy enough to lumber over rough terrain made from wooden blocks of various heights.
Laura Millspaugh, a science teacher at Cascia Hall’s Upper School and robotics director, said main goal of the program is to provide a fun way for students to work together, solve problems and develop a love for science. “We want to get them excited and involved, so they’re ready to become scientists and engineers,” she said.
“We want to get them excited and involved, so they’re ready to become scientists and engineers,” she said.
That’s a goal Millspaugh, the team’s sponsors and the team’s engineering mentors work to share with students outside of Cascia Hall. Participating students frequently perform robotics demonstrations at public and private events throughout the metro area and work closely with Booker T. Washington High School.
“When a school wants to start up a program, we help get them the information they need,” she said. Millspaugh said schools will need to buy parts for the robots, and Cascia’s team has gradually accumulated their stock over the last four years. Other programs have borrowed parts from Cascia in the past.
In addition to the school outreach, Cascia Hall sponsors summer robotics programs open to all. June’s camp focused on demonstrating engineering concepts, while July’s camp, which is still open for registration through mid-July, will be a crash course on developing robots out of Lego bricks.
FIRST Robotics has three different levels of competition based on age groups. FIRST Lego League, which runs through grades four through eight, sticks to Lego bricks, motors and control units to give students an easy way to get into design and programming.
FIRST Tech Challenge, open to grades seven through 12, tasks students with designing, building and programming robots out of smaller components and bits of aluminum with pre-drilled holes for screws, Erector set-style. Cascia’s FTC creation for last year was Dora, a small robot on wheels with a big crane arm that can extend, grab and carefully place small objects.
Veronica was built by the most advanced of Cascia’s FIRST teams, The Commandobots of the FIRST Robotics Challenge. This division uses many raw materials, and the regulations allow for the construction of robots weighing up to 120 pounds. Millspaugh said FRC bots are designed on computer using CAD software, and raw sheets of aluminum are cut to the right size using water jets. Though with something that complex, there’s still plenty of trial and error to work through, said Logan Guthrie, a rising junior. “We had to move the location of the battery seven times,” he said.
Each division competes in their own robotics competition against other teams in the area — Millspaugh estimated there are 75 FTC teams and 40 FRC teams in Oklahoma. That’s when each robot’s design gets put to the test against a different set of challenges each year, which could include climbing hills, placing balls in baskets, removing barriers or shooting balls.
Since the events include events between teams of two in FTC and three in FRC, there’s as much collaboration as there is competition, Millspaugh said. “There have been times we haven’t had the best robot, but we’ve been a great partner,” she said.
This year, the Commandobots won the Rookie Inspiration Award.
Cascia Hall’s Robotics Camp will be held July 18-21 at a cost of $175. For more information about the camp, or to get assistance with starting a FIRST Robotics team, contact Millspaugh at 918-746-2600, extension 2121; or firstname.lastname@example.org.