Union High School students Ethan Patterson, left, and Scott Yeager works with their robot, while Orrin Black of Baker City operates the labtop computer that runs the robot during a test run of the robot Monday in Union High School’s gym. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Robot made by Union High School students may be the best yet in four years of competition
UNION — Do not let its friendly handshake fool you — this robot is missing a personality.
What the machine does have is an ability to bring out the best in Union High School students.
Meet the talk of the UHS robotics world, a fast-moving robot set to represent the school this spring at U.S. FIRST competitions in Ellensburg, Wash., and Portland.
The robot, built by the RoboCats, a team comprised primarily of Union students, may be the top one ever assembled at the high school since the school began taking part in U.S. FIRST events four years ago.
“Every student who has worked with robots before says this is the best one,” said Nod
Nod Palmer, a retired Union science teacher, who serves as the advisor for the RoboCats.
Palmer said this year’s robot drives better and operates more efficiently than its predecessors.
The machine, which can travel about 15 mph, is built to compete on an “Aerial Assist’ course at U.S. FIRST events. Robotics teams receive points each time their robot tosses a ball over bars on the course. They are also awarded points for successfully tossing a ball to another robot.
The quality of the wheeled machine made by the RoboCats is a credit to long hours of work done by students. Many have worked on building it for two to six hours a day, six days a week for almost two months.
Scott Yeager, a sophomore at Union, is among the students putting in the long hours. Yeager said he is involved with this program because the experience he gains could help him land a college scholarship. He and others also build robots each year for another more fundamental reason.
“We just like this,” Yeager said.
The sophomore never thinks of the robot in humanistic terms. However, he and his fellow RoboCat members can make the robot appear that it has a personality. For example, the remote-controlled machine can be directed to roll up to an individual while out of sight of its operator, extend its metal arms and shake someone’s hand.
“It’s a polite robot,” said Whitney Black of Baker City after receiving a handshake from it.
Black is the mother of Orrin Black of Baker City, a member of the RoboCats team. Orrin, 15, joined the RoboCats in early January. He has been attending almost all of the team’s robot-building sessions since then. Whitney has seen her son make great strides on academic and social fronts since then.
“My son has blossomed,” she said.
Whitney Black credits the growth to the encouraging atmosphere Palmer creates, one in which students are encouraged to try new things and not worry about tripping up.
“He creates an environment in which they are not afraid to make mistakes,” the Baker City resident said.
The program Palmer advises is funded by donations of money and services. Students are not charged a fee to participate in the program, something RoboCat member Ethan Patterson is greatly appreciative of. He said that students at some other high schools that participate in the U.S. FIRST program are charged high participation fees. Patterson cannot say enough good things about the opportunity he is being provided.
“How many kids can say, ‘I built a robot in school?’” the junior said. “These are the future.”
Palmer speaks as if he is continually amazed by what his students do each year.
“You go from pieces of metal and wires to building something which is more or less smart,” he said.
About the program
The U.S. FIRST Program was founded in 1989 by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, with inspiration and assistance from physicist and MIT professor emeritus Woodie Flowers.
The first season was in 1992 and had only one event at a high school gymnasium in New Hampshire. That first competition was relatively small-scale. In its first year, robots relied on a wired connection to receive data from drivers.
The FIRST Championship, which has been held at a large-scale venue since 1995, has been held at Epcot Center in Orlando, Reliant Park in Houston, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
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