Robotics team doubles up its efforts to score well at Purdue

Robotics team members (from left) Sam Kratzer, John David Paff and Samir Shaikh put their robot through its paces after the machine was unveiled on Monday, Feb. 22, in the Community Building at Hier’s Park.
Robotics team members (from left) Sam Kratzer, John David Paff and Samir Shaikh put their robot through its paces after the machine was unveiled on Monday, Feb. 22, in the Community Building at Hier’s Park. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Five years of experience - combined with a little extra money this year - had robotics fans seeing double earlier this week.

Moments after the robot  built by the Huntington County 4-H Robotics Team was unveiled on Monday, Feb. 22, a second robot, identical except for color, shot out from behind the curtain.

The first robot, team member Samir Shaikh explained, would be crated up and shipped off later that night to Purdue University to await the start of the Boilermaker Regional Competition on March 18. The second robot will stay home and give team members a chance to sharpen their robot operating skills for the competition.

The team, now in its sixth season of competition, had spent the previous six weeks building the robots capable of  playing a soccer-type game, a task given to teams across the country participating in the FIRST robotics challenge, explained Chris Elston, one of the team's mentors.

The triangular-shaped robot the Huntington team came up with weighs only 75 pounds - well under the 150-pound weight limit that had team members carving chunks off last year's robot  in an attempt to come in under the limit - and resembles a small robotic vacuum cleaner.

It is designed to gather up soccer balls scattered about the playing field and "kick" them into the goal area, with its actions controlled by human team members. The robot is even equipped with a camera so the human operators can see what the robot "sees" across the playing field, explained team parent John Paff.

But building, programming and operating the robot is only part of the competition.  This year, the team also took advantage of a $14,000 animation program supplied by competition organizers and, utilizing a combined 1,200 programming hours by six people, came up with a 30-second animation they plan to enter in that portion of the contest.

Help on that project came from Shahbaaz Shah, a visiting professor of digital media arts at Huntington University. Shah is a character animator and has worked on such films as "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" and "Horton Hears a Who!" as well as several video games.
Another competition focuses on the team's impact on the community, and the local organization has its own marketing team working on that aspect of the program.

Marketing team members Katelyn Shoebridge and Rachel Cook, both first-year members, are also Girl Scouts. As one of their projects, they've set up a robotics badge program for a Junior Girl Scout troop.

Another of the robotics team's community projects was the construction of a robot used by the Huntington Police Department as part of its firearms training program.