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THS robotic club a winning team

The 513373 team holds its own at first ORTOP Championships at Intel
by: Barbara Sherman, READY FOR WAR — Tigard High School technology teacher and robotics club advisor Stevie Viaene is proud of “Warhammer,” the robot that the club built and entered in a recent competition.

TIGARD - Robots - they are among us, and that is a good thing, at least for the Tigard High School robotics club.

The team, which designed and built a robot to enter in the 2006 ORTOP Championships on March 17, narrowly escaped being eliminated in the early rounds but then rallied to make the semi-finals before losing to other teams.

Beyond that, the little team with heart won the Judges' Award.

The club is called ELEETS, which when written out in the numbers 513373 and read upside down spells out the name. Eight students are in the club, and five went to the competition.

'We had robotics going three years ago and entered the American Computer Science League Competition,' said Stevie Viaene, THS technology teacher and club advisor. 'Then last year, AutoDesk computer mentors came in and inspired the kids, and we looked into entering a FIRST competition. But you need about $12,000 plus a truck and a forklift.

'We found the VEX system, which costs $300 for a bundle kit or $350 for a tournament bundle kit. Everything was affordable. Through some federal grants, we bought four kits, so with eight kids, everyone could be hands on.'

Pointing out the robot used in last month's competition - 'Warhammer' - Viaene said that it was grafted from several kits.

'The rules of the competition are that you can only use VEX parts, but you can tweak them,' she said. 'You can't weld them, but you can shorten them.'

The team assembled one robot as the mechanical prototype and a second one used only for programming.

'The way it works is you put it together, tweak it, test it, tweak it, test it, tweak it and test it,' Viaene said. 'It goes on for hours. We didn't want the programmers to just sit while the other kids were testing the robot, so this way everyone could keep busy.'

She noted that since this is the first year that the team is using VEX robots, 'you start from scratch.'

'But then you build on what you know,' Viaene added. 'And the team worked really well together.'

Information on the game to be played at the tournament - 'Hangin' Around' - was first released in October, and updates were sent as they became available.

At the tournament, Viaene was amazed at how cooperative and helpful the teams were with each other despite being competitive. Teams could match up with an alliance partner, and THS paired up with the team from Union High School.

'The kids at the tournament checked out each other's robots and shared information,' she said of the 15 teams who came from all over Oregon to the Intel Jones Farm Campus. 'The way the competition, which was held for the first time here, was set up made it a cooperative and networking experience.'

Robots had to be 18 inches high at the start of the competition but could be built to expand to 24 inches. During qualifying rounds, teams had two minutes to earn points by making their robots scoop up baseballs from the floor of the tournament playing area and deliver them to a high or low goal.

Teams also could score points by making their robots push an Atlas exercise ball to a pre-determined location.

'We were second to the last for a while,' Viaene said. 'It was scary, but then we made it into the semi-finals.'

Her photos of the scoreboard at different times show how the THS team fared as it went through the rounds.

But all was not lost - the THS team ended up winning the Judges' Award for Connectivity.

The award was given to the team that showed the most connections to its school, its community and engineering.

Luckily, all the team members plan to stay in the club next year, according to Viaene.

'All the kids will be back,' she said. 'They had a blast. The fact that they came back from the depths so close to losing out was amazing. It was a bonding experience for them. None of us knew what to expect. They were so pumped and are so excited about their future in this.'