Jim Elliot Christian High School's robot plowed through other robots recently at the Regional FIRST Robotics Competition.
After winning the regional contest at the University of California, Davis, last weekend against 39 other teams from 11 states, the Raptor Force Engineering Team 1662 will be headed to Atlanta at the end of April for the national contest.
The objective is for student teams to create a robot with certain specifications that can play the game of choice. This year's game was three-on-three basketball.
Jim Elliot's 5-foot-tall robot was built to shoot into the 10-foot-high basket. And, just like the show "Battle Bots," students used remote controls to take their robots around the course, defend the 'bots against others and shoot balls into the baskets and side goals.
This was Jim Elliot's second year in the contest, said Tom Bray, team instructor. Last year, the team took 28th place out of 40. The game then was to pick up a triangle and put it on top of another one. The robot was totaled.
Bray wasn't expecting the team to win; he was, however, expecting the team to be competitive and have a good time.
Ten percent of Jim Elliot's students - 20 - were on the team, and they had a budget of $7,000. Many of the other schools that competed were large, had budgets of $20,000 to $40,000 and were sponsored by big-name brands.
Each team receives electronics and software at the beginning of the school year. In January, they have to go to sites were NASA does a satellite feed with further instructions.
The teams have exactly six weeks to make their robots. Then, the robots are picked up and stored until the contest begins. This way, no team has more time than any other team.
"It took a lot of brainstorming," senior Sarah Hoh, 17, said of the team's contraption.
Senior Cody Milne, 18, said the students decided to focus on the robot's shooting capabilities.
"It was trial and error," he added.
Students on the Raptor Force worked every day after school and every Saturday. Their robot was composed mostly of aluminum and Plexiglas., since it could be no more than 120 pounds.
They also had a conveyor belt system to pick up the balls and push them into a hopper. A kind of pitching machine then shot the ball to the right angle to make a basket.
"What set our robot apart was low gearing in the transmission and good traction with wide wheels to push every other robot in the competition," Milne said.
Students on the team used their various talents to work on the robot. One student did the manufacturing and led the students in working on electronics.
Later on, the students put a cardboard hole on the wall and practiced shooting, Hoh said.
At the competition, the robot didn't originally pass inspection because some of the parts were ones the team used last year. They worked on the bot for five hours to fix it.
"It started out horribly," Milne said. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong."
"I knew we had the ugliest thing there," Bray said. "But I knew if it got in a shoving match with the other robots, it would win."
During the first round, the battery shot out of the back of the bot. The team was ranked 36 out of 40. When one of the top-ranked teams picked the Raptor Force to go against, the tides started to turn. The team won the round.
"It was Cinderella story-ish," Milne said.
Friday was a tough day because there were nine matches, and little things malfunctioned, he said, adding that it was like NASCAR, struggling to get the pieces back together quickly. When not in competition, teams worked together by sharing parts and tools. At the end of the day Saturday, Jim Elliot's robot triumphed, though not without some bruises that will have to be fixed when the team travels to Georgia.
"It was amazing," Sarah said.
Being on the team has helped Hoh and Milne improve their skills in many areas and to get into the schools of their choice. Hoh will be attending the U.S. Air Force Academy, while Milne will major in engineering at the University of the Pacific.
"It has given me so many skills," Milne said. "You really test yourself; it's great."
Now, the team is raising money to go to Georgia. The robot was shipped there directly after the competition. When teams arrive, they will have 12 hours to fix their bots. The Raptor Force will have to take their bot apart and re-weld it so it doesn't fall apart.
"I never dreamt this could happen," Bray said. "I was surprised. We were going against tough competition."
Anyone who would like to make a donation may call Dottie Henry at Jim Elliot Christian High School at 368-2800.
Contact reporter Jennifer Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published: Thursday, March 30, 2006