Houston team hopes robot will be slam dunk at competition

awoolen@macon.comJanuary 22, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Wooden prototypes mixed in with electrical boards as 55 students and several mentors gathered in a room at the Houston County Career Academy Thursday to build a robot.

Not just any robot but one that will be able to pick up a 2-foot round ball weighing 2 1/2 pounds and throw it.

As a participant in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition, the Houston County Robotics team will spend six weeks working on building the robot.

This year, the objective is to maneuver the robot through a 27 foot by 53 foot field. The robot will be required to pick up the ball and shoot it into a target area.

The competition will be at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, March 27–29.

“Our big thing is working together and to get students interested in STEM,” said Jimmie Fouts, Houston County Career Academy engineering, manufacturing and electronics teacher and a team adviser. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Students from high schools in Houston County are grouped into areas by interest. There are several different spots a student can select from, including engineering, web design, electronics, prototypes and public relations.

Matthew Honeycutt, a 10th-grader at Veterans High School, joined the team last year because he likes to build stuff. After realizing there was much more that went into the robot, he decided he needed to help out in a different way.

This year, Honeycutt is in charge of sponsorships and public relations.

“What we really need is sponsors,” Honeycutt said.

The cost to enter the competition is $5,000, and materials run close to $2,000. For the 55 students to stay at the competition in Atlanta for two nights, it is another few thousand dollars.

“It’s not inexpensive,” Fouts said.

To add to the expense, students are trying new wheels that allow the robot to move sideways as well as forward and backward.

Mentor Michael Day was helping the students assemble the wheels.

With the new wheels, the robot “can slide whatever angle you want,” Day, a principle analyst at Southwest Research Institute in Warner Robins, said.

Fouts hopes some of the students who work on the robot will go on to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The FIRST program offers college scholarships to participants and has more than 800 scholarships available totaling $16 million, according to its website www.usfirst.org.

At the prototype board, Casi McDaniels, a senior from Northside High School, was using computer software to program how the joystick was going to work for the people who would drive the robot.

Second Lt. Nathan Lett, an electrical engineer at Robins Air Force Base, was trying to let the students handle any problems they encountered while building the robot.

“I’m just going to give it to them and watch the magic happen,” he said.

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