Bibb robotics team to compete in international competition

alopez@macon.comJanuary 3, 2014 

Bibb County high school students who are members of the robotics team RoboBibb are leaving Saturday for Atlanta, where they are attending a kickoff event for an international robotics competition.

This is the first year a united Bibb County team involving several schools in the system is taking part in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition, commonly called the FIRST competition. Howard High School represented Bibb County in 2010 and 2011.

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams to build and program a robot in six weeks to perform prescribed tasks.

Last year, teams built robots that could launch flying discs and score goals on opponents. At competition, the robots were put to the test and pitted against each other.

Jeremiah Smith, a senior at Howard High, is one of only two RoboBibb team members with FIRST competition experience.

“I want to study computer science in college, mostly because of my initial experience with the Howard High School team,” Smith said. “I had a blast.”

Smith participated as a freshman on the Howard team, but it disbanded after 2011 because it lost most of its members to graduation.

Eventually, Smith petitioned Howard High’s programming and computing teacher Joe Finkelstein to restart the team, and Finkelstein worked with Mercer University and the Bibb County school board to create RoboBibb. Finkelstein is now lead advisor for the district team.

“It makes our building process a little more complicated,” Smith said, referring to the unified team, ”because we have to worry about transportation and getting people to meetings held at Howard. But I think working with students from the other schools in Bibb County will definitely help our team compete.”

RoboBibb recently received a $7,000 grant for rookie teams from FIRST to develop its program over three years. It also relies on financial help from sponsors.

“Georgia Power, the Macon-Bibb Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Cox (Communications) and the Macon Economic Development Commission have already pledged about $3,000 for our team,” Smith said.

The RoboBibb team paid $6,000 to enter the 2014 FIRST Robotics Competition.

In Atlanta, team members will be watching the live simulcast unveiling of the competition challenge and will pick up their team kit provided by FIRST. Last year, teams received motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components, with no instructions. Robots typically weigh up to 150 pounds.

Finkelstein said building the robot takes a big commitment from team members.

“These kids have to look at this as maybe a football player or wrestler would look at their team, where they are going to be devoting a lot of the next six or seven weeks to this process,” Finkelstein said.

The 2014 FIRST Robotics Competition will feature 2,850 teams and 71,250 high-school students in 54 regional events, four qualifying championships, and 39 qualifying competitions, including in Canada and Israel, according to the FIRST website.

RoboBibb will compete in March at the Peachtree Regional event in Atlanta.

While the high school students will be doing most of the work building their robots, they depend on mentors to help them navigate the very technical project.

The RoboBibb team has two mechanical engineers and someone involved in computer science, but the team needs more, Smith said, adding that potential mentors don’t necessarily have to come from an engineering background.

For more information or to volunteer as a RoboBibb mentor, email Joe Finkelstein at robobibb@gmail.com.

A Houston County team, which also is attending the kickoff event in Atlanta Saturday, has engineers from Robins Air Force Base as mentors.

As many as 30 students and coaches from five Houston County schools are heading to Atlanta.

Jimmie Fouts, a Houston County team advisor, said there is weeks of work to do after Saturday’s event.

“After the meeting on Saturday, we anticipate working Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturdays for the next six weeks to build the robot,” he said in a news release.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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