Columbia FIRST Robotics Competition team off and running

Saturday, January 7, 2012 | 5:07 p.m. CST; updated 5:25 p.m. CST, Saturday, January 7, 2012
Chris Glover, 18, right, and Randy Hildebrand, 15, both students at Rock Bridge High School, talk about the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition when they gathered at the Columbia Area Career Center on Saturday. The robotics group gathered to watch the unveiling of this year's rules.

COLUMBIA — After hearing encouraging words from public figures like Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Stephen Colbert and Will.I.Am through a telecast, the Army Ants robotics competition team finally got to hear what they had been waiting for: the rules for Rebound Rumble.

About 30 students, mentors and parents of the Columbia Area Career Center Army Ants FIRST Robotics Competition team gathered at the Columbia Career Center on Saturday morning to hear the guidelines for the robot building competition held by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.


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The group began the morning with a pancake and bacon breakfast while watching the  national kick-off broadcast on NASA TV.

The team has six weeks to build a robot to definite specifications to perform in the Rebound Rumble matches at a regional competition. The team requires dedication; they will meet every weekday and on Saturdays until the regional competition in March.

Each Rebound Rumble match is two minutes and 15 seconds, and the goal is for robotics teams to work together to help their robots score points by shooting basketballs through hoops.

The robots must be built to detailed specifications in order to compete in matches. Teams take special care in building and testing their robots before competing.

After the broadcast, team members and mentors started making lists of the tools and help they will need to begin building the robot next week.

Zeke Rachow, 17, who was on the team last year, said the team gave him hands-on experience that has helped him in the real-world. He plans to study electrical engineering after high school and is excited about this year's potential.

"All the knowledge you learn here is all tangible," Rachow said. "You can see the application." 

Heather Miller, 16, is a first-year team member. She got involved after hearing about it in her electronics class through the Career Center. Miller is helping with marketing strategies for the team. She has helped plan fundraising and outreach activities to help raise awareness in the Columbia area and funds for the team.

Miller said she plans to study robotics engineering at DeVry University after high school.

Miller's mother, Christa Plemmons, said the family is planning on attending the regional competition and being involved as much as possible. She said this team is important because the students could be creating something that might be used in the future.

"They may just be shooting hoops, but it keeps them interested and they stay out of trouble," Plemmons said.

Kevin Gillis, MU professor of biological engineering, is a mentor for the control engineering part of the robotics team. He participated last year because his son John, 16, was a member of the team.

Gillis said he enjoys interacting with students on the team because they are interested in engineering.

"If you give (students) the opportunity to learn outside the classroom, you'll find they'll work very hard," Gillis said. "They're inspired by something that interests them."

The regional competition will be March 22 to 24 at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis.

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Theo Choma January 8, 2012 | 10:24 p.m.

Just adding onto this, there was also a team of about eleven student leaders and two teachers that went to Saint Louis to watch a live stream of the reveal with the rest of the teams participating in the STL Regional. We picked up the "kit of parts," a container containing many of the basic materials needed for constructing the robot. Also, we attended a strategy planning session given by members of teams 1208 "Metool Brigade," and 1985 "Robohawks."

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 9, 2012 | 6:51 a.m.

At one of MS&T's summer camps youngsters younger than noted in the article above are given a shot at constructing simple robots while under supervision. The results are often comical and occasionally impressive.

The most difficult aspect of the exercise is keeping campers from walking off with the robots.

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