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Central Mass. Students Build Basketball-Shooting Robots

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

 

The robot built by students at the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is known across the country as one of the premier engineering schools, but some of the most interesting engineering projects done on campus are actually completed by high school students.

Every year WPI faculty and students sponsor two high schools and serve as mentors to students in an international robot building competition. The two Worcester schools competing this year are The Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science and Burncoat High School. Ken Stafford serves as the Director of WPI’s Robotics Resource Center, and also as the mentor to Mass Academy. He believes that, while the work is hard and somewhat hectic, the program is vital for keeping students interested in robotics. “It’s like the old adage, ‘how long does it take to build a robot?’ Exactly as much time as you have,” Stafford said with a chuckle. “We think all this work will inspire the students and motivate them to keep doing this kind of thing, so that will make it a success. But, is the robot as tested as it should be? No. Have all systems been operational? Close.”

The robot built by students at Burncoat High School.

This year’s challenge was to build a 130 lb. machine capable of launching a basketball into a basket from up to 50 feet away. After the 45-day building period, students are no longer allowed to touch, or even see, their robots until the competition officially begins on WPI’s campus early next month. Burncoat team mentor and WPI’s Web Applications Developer Nick Galotti stresses how remarkable it is for high school students to start an entirely new challenge from nothing each year.

Galotti  said, “It’s a brand-new challenge every year, we can’t re-use any of the parts, and these are high school teams,” Galotti said. “So, they are building this thing from scratch. It’s not like we’re given a kit or instructions, we have to do it from scratch every year.”

Tuesday night both robots were put into storage in the basement of WPI’s Higgins Lab, and will remain there until the contest begins on March 8th. The competition will host some 2,400 schools from across New England and the United Kingdom, and will require the robots to shoot baskets into three different hoops of varying heights. The lowest basket is worth one point, and each higher basket is worth an additional point. The competition will run for three days and Galotti is cautiously optimistic about his school’s chances of beating Stafford and Mass Academy.
“Right now I would say I feel a little more confident than him,” Galotti said with a smile. “We’ve had a little extra practice time, and we’ve been running it for the last five days. I wouldn’t say that means we are going to win, but I will say that things are… Working."
 

 

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