NEW BETHLEHEM – Members of the Redbank Valley High School Robotics Team will once again put their engineering, design and marketing skills to the test as they construct a working robot that will go head-to-head with similar robots from other regional school districts in a competition next weekend.
Led by coaches and Redbank Valley teachers Jill Boyles and Laura Heasley, the 29-member RVHS robotics team — consisting of students in grades seven through 12 — will travel to the Penn State DuBois campus Oct. 19 and 20 to compete against eight other schools in the annual BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) competition.
“We really have to work as a cohesive team to be successful in this competition,” Boyles said last week, explaining that she hopes this year’s competition will inspire the younger team members to jump in and bring their own ideas to the table. “We have more kids than ever before, and this team has the exceptional ability to work together to achieve success.”
According to team members, the RVHS Robotics club had approximately five weeks to design and construct a working remote-controlled robot from scratch using everyday materials provided free of charge by BEST competition sponsors, or other approved items, that can successfully complete a series of game challenges.
While the robots over the last several years have been designed to compete on the floor, this year’s game presents a new challenge for participants as they were tasked with designing a robot, weighing no more than 24 pounds, that will compete on sloped beams suspended off the floor.
“The game is more difficult this year because we have to build the robot for a slope,” senior RVHS robotics team member Tyler Ortz said, noting that he and his teammates had to tap into a whole different set of engineering and planning skills to design a robot much different than what they were used to in previous years. “It definitely required more planning.”
“Current Events” is the name of the game for the upcoming two-day BEST competition. Competing teams — which in addition to Redbank include students from DuBois Area, St. Marys, Cranberry, Brockway, Clearfield County Career and Technology Center, Oil City, Mentor Christian and Tatnall School — will have three minutes to earn as many points as they can by completing in multiple rounds of ocean cleanup-themed challenges.
For this year’s competition, teams will use their robots to brave unstable currents (represented by the suspended beams) to collect as much “trash” as they can from any of four different ocean gyres located on the 32-foot-by-12-foot playing field.
“It’s less of a driving game this year,” Ortz said, noting that the robots will be limited to traveling up and down the sloped beams.
In order to earn the most points, sophomore RVHS robotics team member Hayden Smith said he would like to see his team work to gather as much trash as possible at one time.
“We can also get more points by getting stuff off higher shelves and rescuing turtles,” he said. “I can’t wait to see how our finished robot performs, especially with the difficulty of the competition this year.”
To better prepare for the robotics competition, the RVHS team joined other competing teams at the DuBois Mall on Saturday, Oct. 6 to unofficially test their robot and strategies on an actual game field.
“The test run allowed us to reconfigure and modify our robot so that it can run more efficiently and score more garbage during the actual competition,” Boyles said.
In order to best utilize the strengths of each robotics team member at next weekend’s competition, the students have been divided into different internal teams to work on different aspects of the competition — which not only includes designing and building the robot, but marketing, research and compiling an engineering notebook.
According to Boyles, the local team will be focusing more time this year on the marketing aspect of the project in an attempt to increase last year’s scores in that category.
“We need to focus on our brand,” Boyles said. “We didn’t do that as well as we should have last year.”
In addition, each team is required to construct a booth to tie the theme together and display all the work that has been done for the project. Made entirely out of recycled materials — including different colored plastic bottles — Redbank’s booth for 2018 will incorporate the clean oceans theme by depicting a transformation of dirty water to clean water.
“We drew on inspiration from artist Dave Chihuly to create the illusion of waterfalls using pop bottles depicting both clean and dirty water,” Boyles explained.
While the RVHS robotics team may have its immediate sights on qualifying for the BEST Regional Championship in Pittsburgh this November, several team members agreed that they would eventually like to see the robotics club built into the high school’s curriculum as an elective course.
“It could be a great way to get students interested in robotics earlier on,” senior robotics team member Kasey Watkins said of the benefit of offering robotics as a class. He added that offering robotics as a class would also cut down on other extracurricular conflicts hindering the team’s meeting time.
“It’s hard to find time to get things done for the competitions with other sports and extracurriculars going on after school,” Watkins explained. “There would be less conflicts if we had a designated time of the day to work in a scheduled robotics class.”
Boyles agreed, noting also that students could qualify for scholarship money by enrolling in robotics classes at school.
“It’s something we would like to see in the very near future,” she said.
For more information on RVHS robotics, visit the group’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.