Robots Rule!

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College of Southern Maryland Hosts High School Robotics Challenge

It didn't seem like much at first – neon yellow softballs being pushed by nuts, bolts and strips of moving perforated tin – but as the balls rolled past the goal line, student engineers patted each other on the back, parents visibly bounced and middle schoolers looked on admiringly as they dreamed of future robotic competition.

Twelve teams met at the College of Southern Maryland's La Plata Campus on April 23 at the “CSM Robotics Challenge: a Southern Maryland High School Competition” to test their robot designs, meet with other local students and demonstrate to local business, community and education leaders that their generation has the right stuff to move engineering technology and design to the next level.

“Isn't this fantastic?” said John Reardon, director of Charles County Economic Development department, as he pointed to a group of tri-county middle schoolers who were watching the competition intently. “The great thing about technology and creativity is that you never know where the next answer is going to come from, who the next Bill Gates will be. Events like this remind us adults that sometimes we need to stand back and let the students apply their energy and drive to their own ideas.”

“Today is about the students,” said Judy Thomason as she watched the competitions from the sideline. Thomason, former chair of CSM's technical studies department, noted how far the competition has progressed in the two years CSM has been applying a National Science Foundation Grant to developing interest in the science, math and technology fields. “Last year, we had two teams working with Lego Mindstorm kits and here we are, a year later, with 12 fantastic teams who are helping to build this competition from the inside out,” she said.

One of the competitors trying to establish a Southern Maryland robotics reputation is the RoboBees from the Dr. James A. Forrest Career Center in Leonardtown. “The RoboBees helped CSM conceive, plan and execute the robotics competition by providing input about what the competitors needed in terms of space and encouragement. They also showed true sportsmanship by mentoring and encouraging students from other schools to develop their own robotics team,” said Jeff Tjiputra, instructor and chair of CSM's department of technical and industrial studies.

In addition to being mentors, the RoboBees have spent several weekends a month traveling to regional VEX competitions in addition to their regular class hours and training sessions. “This is about recognizing these students for the time and energy they have put in developing the best robotics teams possible,” said RoboBees Coach David Buddenbohn, who added that while he is extremely proud of his students it will be hard to see his senior members leave for college.

The RoboBees, who are comprised of four teams and won six of the 11 available awards at the CSM Robotics Competition, are being recognized for their talent by several prestigious schools. Leonardtown High School Senior Tim Miedzinski has been accepted into several notable colleges but has decided to attend Virginia Tech to study mechanical engineering. His teammate Daniel Logan will attend Virginia Tech as well to study computer engineering while Zach Stachelczyk will attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to study computer engineering.

“The robotics program and competitions have given me a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I wish all students could have as it has allowed me to work with real engineers and witness engineering first-hand. I, as well as the others, have learned so much from these past three years and I truly believe it is one of the best activities a student can participate in,” said Miedzinski.

The success that teams like the RoboBees have seen in getting high school students interested in the science, math and technology fields has been encouraging to teachers. “We're here today to observe,” said Jonathan Liston, a teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School. “We started to get excited about robotics as a teaching method in March when we received our first two VEX building kits. Jeff Tjiputra and the Charles County Tech Council opened our eyes to the potential learning applications a team would provide our school. When we took the idea to our students, we couldn't believe the response. The students are definitely pumped up about being able to do something like this; they see how it could lead to jobs in their own communities. So today is about research, this group of students is observing each team's design – what works, what doesn't work, what elements should work but don't in real-time working conditions. It is a learning experience for everyone involved,” said Liston, who noted that his team is actively looking for local business and community sponsors.

The CSM Robotics Competition is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, The Patuxent Partnership, CSC, Charles County Technology Council, Applied Techniques Corporation, Charles County Economic Development, Port Tobacco Consulting, Zekiah Tech, Manekin, MorganFranklin and CSM.

During the CSM Robotics Competition, each team had to give a technical presentation on how they approached the engineering challenge posed by this year's competition field, how they designed and programmed their robot and how they approached design and functionality problems. Following the presentations, the teams proceeded to the “Hangin' – A- Round” competition field where four teams, each consisting of three to 10 students, competed in paired “alliances.” The teams had to program their robots to complete a series of tasks with each task completed earning a set number of points. Robots were programmed to complete tasks both with driver-controlled play and a 20-second autonomous period.

The following teams were recognized for their participation:

  • RoboBees 3512B – Dr. James A. Forrest Career Center
    Winner: Visual Design Award
  • C-Cubed – Calvert Career Center
  • LHS Team 1 – Leonardtown High School
    Winner: Second Place Overall Competition and Programming Award
  • No Ifs, Ands, or Bots – Calvert Career Center
    Winner: Sportsmanship Award
  • RoboBees 836 A – Dr. James A. Forrest Career Center
    Winner: First Place Overall Competition, Technical Presentation and Engineering Design Awards
  • RoboBees 3512 A – Dr. James A. Forrest Career Center
    Winner: Creativity Award
  • A-lota-bot – Calvert Career Center
    Winner: Team Spirit Award
  • RoboBees 836 B – Dr. James A. Forrest Career Center
    Winner: Team Safety Award
  • Rho-bot – Calvert Career Center
  • LHS Team 2 – Leonardtown High School
  • IDK – Charles – North Point High School
    Winner: Third Place Overall Competition
  • IDK – Bacon – North Point High School

As the robotics teams left to catch their buses home, some homeschoolers talked with their parents and friends. “I could probably build something better than that,” 8-year-old Liam Clem said as he led his mother, Tara McManaway, out the door.

For information call CSM's engineering technology program call 301-934-7556 or 301-870-3008, Ext. 7556 for Charles County; 240-725-5499, Ext. 7556 for St. Mary's County or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7556 for Calvert County. Or visit http://www.csmd.edu/academics/course/EGT.html

Bot Generation

In preparation for the next generation of robotics engineers, the College of Southern Maryland will be offering “Engineering and Robotics Challenge” as part of its summer Teen College courses. Students will test their intellect and creativity as they work in teams on six engineering and nine robotics challenges using Lego's NXT robotic kits. Students are encouraged to have taken a robotics course or belong to a robotics club to be eligible. For ages 11-14. Sponsored by the Naval Surface Warfare Center – Indian Head Division. For information call 301-934-7634 or 301-870-3008, Ext. 7634 for Charles County; 240-725-5499, Ext. 7634 for St. Mary's County or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7634 for Calvert County or visit http://www.csmd.edu/kidscollege/.

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