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Oak Harbor High School robot enters soccer test

Student Jeremiah Konovaloff puts a few finishing touches on the Oak Harbor High School robot, which will be entered in the First Robotics “Breakaway” Competition March 26 and 27 in Seattle. The Robotic Club’s team name this year is “Whidbey Island Wildcats.”  - Photo courtesy of Joe Hunt
Student Jeremiah Konovaloff puts a few finishing touches on the Oak Harbor High School robot, which will be entered in the First Robotics “Breakaway” Competition March 26 and 27 in Seattle. The Robotic Club’s team name this year is “Whidbey Island Wildcats.”
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Joe Hunt

Oak Harbor high schoolers unveiled their competitor for the game “Breakaway” Monday, which asks that players kick a soccer ball and clear a hump before doing a pull-up.

However, the player can’t weigh more than 120 pounds; and it needs to be made of plastic, wires, aluminum and other materials.

The “competitors” are robots, and for their second year, the Robotics Club at Oak Harbor High School will head to Seattle for the two-day First Robotics Competition. The event pairs students with mentors in a battle for robotic superiority.

The club may not be in the top tier of competitors yet, but it’s far ahead of where it was as a rookie program in 2009, robotics coach Che Edoga said.

“In all honesty, we’re competing against ourselves. Our motto is ‘We don’t lose, we learn,’” Edoga said.

This year, the club has grown to 20 members, making it about three times larger than last year. More students bring more ideas, enthusiasm and hours of labor to the project.

To complete the series of tests in “Breakaway,” the bot must drive over a hump, do a pull-up, kick a soccer ball and function autonomously for 15 seconds during a 3-minute routine.

Teams across Washington are sent the rules, stock parts and have six weeks to design, test and build a robot. Every year, a new game is featured, and sometimes the rules can be more complicated than the robots, Edoga said.

“Sometimes you get to the end of a match and you have no way of knowing what the score will be. This year, it’s much more understandable. It’s something people can watch and get into,” Edoga said.

For the soccer competition, the robot must recognize the ball, orient itself in front of the ball, recognize the goal and then kick the ball to score. To do this, Oak Harbor’s robot has a camera, computer recognition software and an air compressor and pneumatic tubing capable of powering a metal kicker.

The 120-pound robot is driven by two wheelchair motors. It also has a grabber arm, which “looks like a ladder you lean on the side of your house,” Edoga said. It has two sections that slide past each other.

The build is as challenging as it sounds, but the team’s only qualifications for students is interest, Edoga said. Many teens join the team with little or no experience but finish the project with working knowledge of computer and mechanical engineering.

They also practice problem solving, time management and interpersonal skills.

Edoga estimated that the robot cost about $6,500 to create. It was paid for by the Oak Harbor School District and a technology grant. Several of the parts came from scavenger hunts at Whidbey Recycling in Freeland.

Next year, Edoga hopes to see another boost in the robotics competition when Oak Harbor High School begins its robotics class. The class was on hold for two years during the high school construction.

His plan is to have the robotics club design the robot and the class will help create some of the components. In the four-part class, students will design a rolling robot, walking robot, a robotic arm and a software-based robot.

Though Edoga doesn’t know if this year’s robot will be the fastest or strongest competitor, at the end of the day, the team will have a project that can complete all of the tasks required. The event begins March 26 and continues March 27 at Key Arena.

“They’ll leave knowing they did something incredible. That’s the feeling I want all of them to have,” he said.

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