The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX


April 18, 2014

Dallas champions, Robowranglers look forward

GREENVILLE — Practicing with the best hones skills and keeps members of Greenville High School Robowranglers on point, according to Director of Robotics Adrienne Emerson.

The Robowranglers are preparing their robot “Vader” for the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis on April 23-26.

Emerson is having her team practice by playing not only against each other, but also against former teammates who graduated and against Rockwall-Heath’s High School team, which is also competing in St. Louis.

Emerson said she is having the team practice with other teams to build both their technical and people skills in the competition.

“We practice playing as defense so our newer members can get experience,” she said, adding they built an arena in their workshop that is as close as possible to the field they will be competing in at St. Louis. “We have student mentors who were drivers in high school.”

A portion of the team’s practice includes going over films of previous matches to find strengths and weaknesses, and practicing with their driving coach to work on the fundamentals of driving the robot.

Caleb Larson, a driver for “Vader,” said the practices vary on where their driving coach deems they need more focus.

“It’s kind of what our coach thinks we’re worst at,” he said. “Sometimes it’s small things, sometimes it’s everything.”

Larson is part of a two-man driving team. His job is to drive the robot, while the other driver operates everything above the drive-train.

The pit-crew’s assignment is to ensure the robot is operating at its best for competition, which includes replacing worn wheels and batteries, and repairing various parts of the robot.

“Right now our pit crew is replacing wheels for the championship,” she said. “Anything that’s going wrong, they fix it.”

The team’s season is full of first- and second-place finishes in regional tournaments across Texas.

In early March, the team competed in a San Antonio Regional Tournament, where they placed second overall, and won an award for innovation in controls and design.  

The Robowranglers won big over Spring Break in the 6th Annual Dallas FIRST Regional Tournament, where they went undefeated to take home the title of “Tournament Champions,” along with the “Motorola Quality Award” which is given to the robot that has the best overall design quality and gameplay during the matches.

The team also took home the first-place prize in the Lone Star Regional in Houston on April 4-6.

During the event, the team was also awarded the “Excellence in Engineering” award, which is given for one specific part of the robot that is particularly innovative.

The device is a part of the catapult which is powered by bands that are pulled down by a mini CIM through a cam-actuated radial release with switches to help prevent a misfire while operating the catapult and allowing for more power to the catapult.

Emerson said she is proud of the team winning the prestigious quality award, because it is given for the best part and for the student’s ability to describe how the part works.

“Being able to sit down with a judge and describe the part helps the student,” she said.

Emerson said the team is not just made up of engineering students. A large portion of the students do not plan going into the mechanical engineering field, they just enjoy using critical thinking skills to solve problems.

“Besides just building the robot, there are a lot of different aspects,” she said. “We have students who are in art education, computer programming, electrical engineering. It’s also a great program for technical writing. I love that this program is able to encase all these different types of kids.”

It is that diversity that Emerson said will give the team an advantage in the championship.

The team will also compete with four other teams from around the world in the competition, which helps members of the team develop communication skills that will benefit the students well past the championship and graduation.

Knowing your opponent is half the battle, and Emerson said the team has a 10-person crew dedicated to taking data on robots on how to effectively compete with or against the other teams.

Last year the team placed third in the world championships, and Emerson said the team is prepared to do even better this year.

“We’re looking to improve upon our performance last year,” she said. “I’m so proud of our performance last year, and if we can get anywhere near last year, we’ll be great.”

Emerson added being able to compete against the top in the world is a treat in itself, and is something she prizes for the kids to experience.

“Just being able to compete against the top robots in the world is great,” she said. “It’s a true experience in itself that I could never give these kids inside a classroom.”


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