Robotics now has a varsity team.
In Science instructor Sean Fitts’ new “Mechanotronics” class, upper schoolers design, build, and program their own complex robots. Last Wednesday, they demonstrated their robots at the North Plaza. To pass the class, each student had to maneuver their self-programmed robots to pick up a ball and drop it into a bucket. After completing the challenge, the students battled their “bots” in an informal competition.
“It’s so incredible to see all of our hard work finally pay off,” said Sofi, a senior in the class and also the president of Robotics Club.
During the exhibition, which served as the students’ final test, some spectators took a turn at controlling the robots and found it hard to do.
“I realized how difficult it is and how amazing it is that we know how to do it,” Sofi said.
“Learning how to build, program, and design is part of the engineering process,” Fitts said. “They also learn a little electronics with the computer programming part and how to operate each part individually,” Fitts said.
Fitts has run Robotics Club for two years and started a middle school robotics class last year, but in the Mechanotronics class he is finally able to teach a higher level of programming. Students program their robots in “C” computer programming code, which Fitts said challenges students to use a high level of math and analytical skills.
“Programming code is its own language where if you mess one thing up the robot won’t work. It’s very detailed and can be really frustrating,” class member Kyle ’11 said. Making a little mistake like writing a “ [a .]” versus a “[a ()]” in the code can ruin everything, she said, and finally figuring out the programming to fix your robot is the best moment of the class.
Though the semester long class is over, Fitts hopes many students will continue to work on programming a Lego Tetrix robot, which they will enter in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a regional robotics competition at Marino High School in the spring. He said the upper school students will concentrate on the programming, while the middle school students, who begin their elective in the spring, will work primarily on design.
Fitts runs the semester long course as a project class, so students build robots every day. The students started the year building basic robots and learning the C programming, and then they begin applying motion, sound, and light sensors to their robots.
Mechanotronics students recommend joining the club or one of the classes.
“I recommend it to all grades, but especially for seniors because it’s like a great breather during the week. But hopefully younger grades take it so we can have more electives like this one,” Lindsay ’10 said.
For Sophia ’11, a daily class is a fun, easy-going time. “We can flash back to the times of Legos and puzzles. The only difference is that we get to see our Legos come to life,” she said.