Precision and coordination were the goals for dozens of student-designed robots engaged Saturday in a pair of competitions at the Bossier Civic Center.
Elementary and middle school students from across the Ark-La-Tex participated in the third round of the Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit, hosted by the Cyber Innovation Center in partnership with Bossier Parish Community College, Louisiana Tech University, Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center and Bossier Parish schools.
More than 80 teams sent their robots through obstacle courses in which the machines had to move small pieces of Lego “cargo” from one area to another and traverse a tabletop maze.
“It teaches them object-oriented programing, problem solving, critical thinking and engineering design,” Vice President of the Cyber Innovation Center G.B. Cazes said. “They’ve got to communicate as a team to make their robots do what they have to do.”
It’s all about teamwork, according to Elmgrove Middle Schooler Hannah Rainbolt, 12, said. Her team won second place despite challenges on the obstacle course.
“The light sensor challenge was the hardest. Sometimes the robot would just stop working, and we had to rewrite the program,” Rainbolt said. “We’re really excited to see what the challenges will be next year because we don’t know yet.”
Ark-La-Tex high school students put their robots through the rigors of the regional ION Mini-Urban Challenge, a large floor mat representing a cityscape. The teams had to program their robots to autonomously perform basic street traffic maneuvers like parking, obeying speed limits and following directions.
“The exposure for students to different technologies is vital so they can see where those technologies lead and why their practical important,” Bossier Parish Community College Dean of Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Laura Goadrich said.
The competition was sponsored by the Institute of Navigation and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The event is a step toward the 2012 National Competition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., on May 26.
Airline High School sophomore Cody Anderson and his team had competed last year but said they didn’t do so well. This year, he said they were still more interested in gaining experience and having fun than winning — although they had their fingers crossed all day.
“I’ve always been fascinated by science,” Anderson said. “When I heard there was a robotics club at my school, I said ‘heck, it’s not purely science, but it’s something up there for sure.'”
He said it took his team about one day to put the robot together from their designs, but that was the easy part. Correctly programming the robot to follow the traffic rules took them to the very last minute.
Eric Durand, a sophomore from Avoyelles Public Charter School in Mansura, said he and another member of his team had started programming robots in middle school. When they got to high school, he said, the programming and tasks became more complex and difficult to master.
He said he hopes to use what he learns with his team as an engineer in the future. This was his team’s first time participating in the competition.