Students take on robotic challenge

Members of Minden High School’s Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) have been putting their robot creations to the test and winning through gaining knowledge and understanding.

The students have competed in four competitions this school year with the most recent being the ION Mini-Urban Challenge hosted by the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City.

The Mini-Urban Challenge weaves together ideas from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge automated car race and the Institute of Navigation’s (ION) own Robotic Lawn Mower Competition.

The purpose of this competition is to challenge high school students to work in teams of 3-10 students to design and operate a robotic unmanned car built from a LEGO® Mindstorms NXT kit that can accurately navigate through a LEGO® city.

“We didn’t win that challenge but we should have,” said JETS Sponsor Ruby Musgrow.

Through the challenge, students learn invaluable problem solving and analytical thinking skills while pushing the bounds of their own creativity.

“Last year we did well in the programming and this year we did better in the presentation, so it’s kind of a growing thing,” she said.

Although the students are disappointed in their showing at the most recent competition, Musgrow said, “We realize that this is their best showing in presentation to date.”

There were two more competitions this school year sponsored by the Cyber Innovation Center. The first competition was held in September at the Bossier Parish Community College.

That matchup, according to Musgrow, emphasized power and torque and featured a 1v1 Sumo competition, where two self-controlled robots were placed in a ring and tried to avoid getting out or avoid being pushed out by the opponent robot.

The first robot that touched outside the ring lost the round and the first robot to win two rounds, won the match.

The second competition was held in November at the Bossier Civic Center and Minden’s JETS won second place. This event required participants to use their robots to autonomously navigate a home and fight fires using light sensors and ultrasonic sensors.

The team also participated in a Challenge Weekend in January sponsored by Louisiana Tech Engineering Department.

This weekend challenge presented student teams with several competitions, including a speed race and a tug-of-war competition.

“At the Louisiana Tech event,” Musgrow said, “the students showed improvement in presentation by winning third place in the presentation division.” The team also won first place in the tug-of-war competition.

During Louisiana Tech’s competition, each school’s team brought two car designs, one with speed maximized and one with torque maximized. Each team also prepared a PowerPoint presentation that communicated their design process and test results.

In efforts to connect students’ projects to the “real world,” a fuel cell researcher and Tech faculty member shared with the group and then participants heard from their student mentors about college life in engineering and science fields.

During last year’s Tech competition, the Minden’s team won first place in bridge building.

“They gave us specifications and we had to build the best bridge at the lowest cost,” Musgrow said.

The competition was more than just getting the bridge built, according to Musgrow.

“They didn’t just build a bridge, they had to calculate all of the math and understand the science behind the bridge they built,” she said.

Minden High’s society of engineers actually started at the request of the students after they experienced Cyber Camp at Tech three years ago.

JETS is a national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting engineering and technology careers to America’s young people and it is open to all students and they may or may not elect to compete.

Five of the six JETS members participating in this year’s competitions are seniors and after graduation they all plan to attend Tech and work toward engineering degrees. Those five students are Josh Bordelon, Tyler Downs, Mallory Stephens, Zach Swart and Jarrett Torres. The sixth team member is Austin Drake, a sophomore, who hasn’t quite decided his career goal yet.