Tallmadge Middle School Robotics Club fares well in National Robotics Challenge

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The Tallmadge Middle School Robotics Club recently competed in the 29th annual National Robotics Challenge in Marion April 10, 11 and 12.

TMSRC Adviser and STEM teacher Justin Christopher called the tournament one of the "most unique robotics tournaments in the country in that it allows for open robotics platforms and systems to be used." The tournament originally began in 1986 and featured four robots. The competition now boasts 15 competitions and more than 500 robots competing.

The National Robotics Challenge is designed to provide students of all ages and levels of study the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of manufacturing processes, controls, robotics and other technologies through competitive engineering contests. Students are judged on their application of technology principles, engineering concepts and their ability to solve real-world problems through a team approach.

The NRC is designed to complement classroom instruction and provide students the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in "challenging and fun" situations. Each contest is specifically designed to test students' skills and knowledge in a particular area of manufacturing, technology, robotics and automation. The event is open to students in elementary, middle school, high school, or post-secondary school anywhere in the world.

This year more than 1,000 participants from nine states competed in the NRC event.

The TMSRC traveled to this year's Challenge with nine students and competed in six contests. The advisers for the TMSRC are Middle School STEM teachers Christopher, Heather Caslow and Chad Nash, and high school Librarian Kelli Christopher. Members of the TMSRC are second-grader Molly Christopher; seventh-graders Jason Betts, Justin Betts, Meghan Christopher, Parker Ramp and Riley Williams; and eighth-graders Nicholas Drayer, Barry Li and Vincent Labosky.

The TMSRC made it to finals in all the events in which it competed and walked away with a First-Place Gold Award for its manufacturing model robot. TMSRC members Vince Labosky and Meghan Christopher designed the robot for this contest. The manufacturing model robot must successfully simulate the manufacturing of a complex product made in industry.

"Vince and Meghan worked on building and programming this robot right up until the judging of this contest. They literally experienced the type of design challenges and time constraints that engineers face in industry on a daily basis," said Christopher.

Contest judges are engineers from the Honda manufacturing facility in Marysville, and Christopher said they were impressed with the all-in-one design that Vincent and Meghan demonstrated.

Students Barry Li and Nicholas Drayer won a Second-Place Silver Award for their Mini-Sumo Robot. This contest requires a student team to build a self-propelled, self-controlled, sensing robot, designed to force another Sumo Robot outside a 4-foot diameter circle. The Sumo Robot cannot exceed a maximum size of 20-cm by 20-cm by 20-cm, and cannot exceed 3 kilograms in weight. The Sumo Robots must be programmed to go against a competitor in four possible configurations: head-to-head, face to face, back-to-back, or side-to-side.

"Barry and Nicholas did an amazing job building their Sumo robot," said Christopher, adding "Their robot beat the robot that beat them in an earlier round, and stalemated against it twice in the championship round."

The competition is a double elimination tournament, so by the luck of the dice the robot that won was able to use its strongest program (head-to-head) to eliminate Barry and Nicholas.

"The Mini-Sumo is the most popular contest at the NRC. The fact that they placed second out of more than 60 robots competing is a great accomplishment," Christopher noted.

The seventh-grade duo of Parker Ramp and Riley Williams won Third-Place Bronze for their Bot-Ball robot. In this contest, students go head-to-head against students from another school in a contest to collect balls to score points. Robots that collect the most balls of their team's color in their scoring area win.

"I am thrilled two returning members of the club were able to design and program such a successful robot in their second year competing," Christopher said, adding "Parker and Riley really worked well as a team to be able to finish as strong as they did in this contest." The pair competed last year and nearly doubled their score from the previous year.

"If the two continue their trend of doubling their robot's performance they will be a force to be reckoned with next year," he said.

Twin brothers Jason and Justin Betts also competed in the Bot-Ball contest and won Second-Place Silver. The Betts boys slightly nudged their way into second-place by utilizing a two-prong attack to collect more balls to score points.

"I cannot be more proud of Jason and Justin for their robot design and programming; they analyzed their competition and came up with a strategy to optimize their ability to score. Seeing these two take second place in their first time competing in this event is awesome!" said Christopher.

The TMSRC also fielded two teams in the Tactile Maze contest. This contest fielded the second largest amount of contenders.

"Although the students did not win any awards in [this] contest, they competed well and had a great time," Christopher noted.

"Exposing students to these real-world types of competitions is what it's all about, getting them excited about technology and engineering, and allowing them to solve technological problems prepares them for 21st Century Careers," Christopher said, noting the students are already excited about next season's competition and want to compete in even more events.

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