High school robotics club inspires with IHoop
Students take the Huntsville High School robotic club’s robot, IHoop for a test drive at the Huntsville Public Library on Nov. 1.
November 7, 2012
HUNTSVILLE – When the Huntsville High School robotics club shouts, “Robot on!” something cool is bound to happen.
Club members maneuvered their robot, IHoop, around the Huntsville Public Library as part of a demonstration to home schooled students and their parents on Nov. 1. Club members spoke about designing and building the robot before letting the students try their hands at operating it.
Ian McTavish, founding faculty member of the robotics club, said the purpose of the presentation was to encourage more students to get involved in science and technology.
He explained the club was created to give students another way to get involved in engaging extracurricular.
“We have such great sports, music and drama programs at the high school, but there are a lot of kids who don’t have a club that really speaks to them,” said McTavish.
He said any student of high school age can be part of the club.
The 30 students who attended the presentation seemed genuinely entertained by the robot as they eagerly crowded around the machine while McTavish explained the mechanics. He then asked the students to stand back as club members declared, “Robot on!” The robot then began to move.
The robotics club, created last school year, is part of an organization called FIRST Robotics, which promotes science and technology. The organization also hosts an annual regional robotics competition at the University of Waterloo.
The robot the club built for last year’s competition is a roughly two-by-three-foot rectangle that sits on four wheels and has an impressive amount of wiring. High school students designed and built the robot from scratch. Its task was to retrieve and throw basketballs with a mechanical arm as well as complete obstacle courses and balancing feats.
The club had six weeks between January and March to build the robot before unleashing it in the competition arena at the university.
“We went in with the goal of just building a functioning robot and had a great experience,” said McTavish.
Although the club did not place in the competition, it considered it a learning experience and it intends to enter the competition again in 2013.
In the meantime, club members are using last year’s machine to enhance their skills and figure out how to fix wiring and incorporate pneumatics and a digital camera.
The club will have to build a completely new machine for next year’s competition and it will have no idea what it will be expected to build until it gets its competition package in January. But it already has business sponsors such as Kimberly-Clark and MBRP who are providing the financial backing for the project.
Twenty-four students are part of the robotics club. McTavish said the club is geared toward high school-aged students of every background and level. It is also an interdisciplinary club as members work with various departments within the school, such as technology, computer science, art and fashion among others, to complete the robot.
He called it a wide-ranging and inclusive club.
“One of the first things we did was take apart a vacuum to figure out how we could use the parts. It’s about learning how these things work, taking them apart and then being able to build something with it,” he said. “Our society, if we want to compete with China and countries with huge populations, we need to be creative.”
Robotics club member Alessandro Nobile has been a member from the beginning. He said a friend convinced him to join and it turned out to be a great decision.
“I’m learning new things,” he said. “And it’s a lot of fun.”
Nobile, who wants to pursue computer science in university, said he has learned several new skills since joining the club, including how to attach, adjust and fix wiring.
Being a club member may lead to post-secondary scholarships, too.
“And I’m pretty sure it will look good on a résumé for university,” he said with a smile.
He spoke with pride about the robot he and his fellow club members created last year, and how he was pleased simply to compete at the regional level.
“Our goal last year was to make it work. It was our first year, we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Nobile. “This year, though, we have a better idea of what we’re doing, so hopefully we can make it to the finals.”
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