While attending Rockwell Automation on the Move (RAOTM) in Richmond in late August, I ran across participants of the robotics team from Goochland High School. Event attendees were taking turns running the team’s robot, “Bradley,” through an obstacle course of Solo cups using a drive station. Bradley is a complex robot the team constructed using Allen Bradley (hence the name) components.
As a team, the “Junkyard Dogs” are given roughly six weeks to design, build and program a robot to meet specific challenges like climbing a rope or playing basketball. They’ve been competing in the annual Virginia F.I.R.S.T. (Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competition since the group’s inception in 2007. The competition, dubbed the ultimate “sport of the mind,” is no joke. Globally there are more than 460,000 participants. The Junkyard Dogs compete on the district and regional levels, which pits them against up to 60 teams. F.I.R.S.T. also provides college scholarship support to its members – just one of the many advantages of participating.
I met GHS junior Courtney Grady at RAOTM. Her enthusiasm for robotics and her ability to network with engineers really impressed me. I asked Courtney to talk about her experience with the robotics team in her own words:
To me, 2106 Goochland Robotics team is a great group of many different high school students coming together to do what each of us has in common. We all love to create and build. Robotics isn’t just an after school activity for us in Goochland. It’s a lifestyle. It’s where great young minds come together under one roof and build something incredible with our own hands. Our team is a strong one, and it shows in our events and competitions together just how well we can work together. Robotics teaches us how to work with others even when it’s difficult to at times. It teaches us to program, construct, take criticism, and most importantly teaches us to all work together as a single unit.
Led by Bruce Watson, John Julock, and Stephanie DeLoach, our growing team of 12 students meets every day after school to construct and prepare our robot for competition before the deadline. Afternoons sometimes turn into nights when we make major breakthroughs in our projects, and we are all just too eager to wait until the next day to finish. We are all an important part of the team because each student has different strengths and weaknesses. By working together, we can receive help in areas we aren’t the strongest, and give help to other students when we can. Our team works well in most cases and when we hit a few bumps we work to develop a solution — no matter the problem.
Our team participates in F.I.R.S.T. robotics. We get “care packages” in January that helps us construct our robot. We work until April and May to present our robot and compete. Each year the instructions are different, so we have to make a new robot from scratch. Our robot starts with a drawing on a board, then we give it life by programming, wiring and constructing the ‘bot. Sometimes not everything goes as we hope, but with 12 heads and counting, our team always finds a solution to the issue, whether it’s with the robot or anything else that is slowing down our progress.
Overall our team is really optimistic; even in the toughest situations. Over the six years I’ve worked with F.I.R.S.T., I can say each year has taught me something extremely important I can apply in an every day setting. It could be from learning how to use a drill in seventh grade to constructing a frame and panel for our robot as a sophomore. From learning to deal with people to connecting a drive station to a robot and getting it to move, robotics has been an amazing experience. An experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.