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Rising Robotics students ‘Rumble’ nationwide

Exposure to robot building has fascinated youth in the Memphis City Schools – so much so that two high school teams, once “rookie” robot builders, now compete nationwide and advise new teams.

by Dena L. Owens
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Exposure to robot building has fascinated youth in the Memphis City Schools – so much so that two high school teams, once “rookie” robot builders, now compete nationwide and advise new teams.

Robotics teams at Craigmont and Hamilton high schools participated in two major contests this year. In March, both teams competed in a two-day regional tournament in Knoxville. In April, both competed again in out-of-state regional contests thanks to a $12,000 grant from corporate sponsor Medtronic, Inc., a global force in medical technology. The grant covered trip expenses such as bus travel.

Craigmont competed in Dallas and Hamilton in Minneapolis, Minn., among high school teams from across the country. Craigmont finished 11th out of 51 teams and Hamilton finished 15th among 65.  Medtronic Inc. will recognize both teams during a special event at its Memphis office on Friday, April 13.

Since 2009, the MCS Robotics Initiative has grown from three to nine high schools consisting of eight teams: Booker T. Washington and Carver (teamed together), Cordova, Craigmont, Hamilton, Kingsbury, Manassas, Memphis Academy of Science and Education, and Memphis Business Academy.

MCS robotics teams fall under the advisement of a national non-profit organization called FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which selected Craigmont and Hamilton to compete in additional regional contests this year.

FIRST builds youth interest in science and technology by helping students build computerized robots from the ground up. A robotics kit provided by FIRST helps students learn how robots are used in fields such as biotechnology, engineering and medicine. FIRST hosts regional and national tournaments, and promotes “gracious professionalism” whereby experienced teams give advice to “rookie” groups.  

Craigmont’s first try at regional competition occurred in Knoxville in 2011.

 “Last year’s contest changed my attitude about robotics,” said Craigmont senior Keunna Arnold. “We learned more and were excited about competing again this year!”

For 2012, FIRST required teams to build a robot to successfully play Rebound Rumble, a game where the machine throws an 8-inch basketball into a goal to score (see www.usfirst.org for an example). Teams are given six weeks building time and access to robotics mentors. Finished robots, with their many wires, lights, steel arms and rolling bases, are then tested for accuracy.

Craigmont’s team, the Robo Chiefs, built their 2012 robot “Geronibot” as an improved model over last year’s machine After undertaking two robotics camps and advisement by five U.S. Navy experts in logistics, technology and explosives, the Robo Chiefs were “ready to rumble.”

 “We wanted to up the ante from last year,” said Robot Chiefs member Quinton Jones. “We’re competitive, but we helped new teams this year, just like we were helped last year.”

Asked about the best part of robot building, Craigmont sophomore Rose Zeng replied, “I enjoy the teamwork and programming the computer.”

Patricia Kilzer, a Craigmont chemistry teacher and Robo Chiefs advisor, said, “Our team’s dedication is contagious! Even my husband helped me to help them.”

Craigmont’s principal, Sherilyn Brown, tested “Geronibot” before it was shipped for competition.  

“Our 2012 robot is better than last year’s,” said Brown.  “Being selected for the additional tournament in Dallas truly inspired our students.”

(For information about all robotics teams in Memphis, visit http://memphisfirstteams.org.)


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