Thirty teams to compete at Southport Saturday
Historic Southport Fieldhouse will spring to life Saturday, but not because of any sporting event. Instead, the action will emanate from the seventh annual Cards and Goats Exhibition, which is a robotics competition among 30 high school teams from around the state.
Southport’s CyberCards and their head mentor, Mike Taylor, are pumped for the event, whose moniker comes from the nicknames of Southport and Warren Central’s digital team.
The robots are charged with stacking totes, placing recycling bins on the totes and depositing litter (pool noodles) in the bins while being maneuvered via remote control. The higher the stacks, the more points scored. Teams, including Perry Meridian and Center Grove, will compete in alliances during the qualification and elimination rounds before going head to head in the semifinals and finals.
Each team has four players: a driver, an operator, a coach and one who introduces elements to the playing field (tryouts were held for these positions). The 2 1/2-minute games are played on a court that measures 27 feet by 54 feet. An animated version of the game can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6UYFKNGHJ8.
The competition – known as Recycle Rush – is designed to introduce newcomers to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), whose goal is to develop ways to inspire students in engineering and technology fields. The organization operates a research facility in Manchester, N.H., where it holds educational programs and day camps for students and teachers.
There are an estimated 3,500 teams worldwide, with about 2,800 in North America.
Taylor, who teaches math and engineering, said the competition falls outside the normal robotics season, which runs from early January through April.
“We started building January 7 and had six weeks to understand the game and build the robot. It was just like the real world. ... It was impossible task, and we did not have enough money, time or resources. But we got the job done. We worked three nights a week after school and on Saturdays. It was the hardest fun these kids will ever have.”
Each school receives the same kit, with identical electronics and motors. Teams are allowed to make custom drive trains and can use certain components from old robots, but their are some restrictions. “We basically operate on the honor system,” said Taylor, who has high praise for the half-dozen engineers who serve as mentors to team.
“It’s really cool; robotics make our engineers into rock stars, and they work side by side with the kids. There is a lot of really cool stuff going on.”
The students are responsible for designing the robot – affectionately known as Buttercup and powered by a 12-volt battery – so it can accomplish what the game requires. Aluminum, sheet metal, box tubing and chains are common components. The team designs all the parts and fabricate the ones it has the capability to; otherwise outside contractors are called upon.
Funding comes from corporate sponsorships.
Participants are laying the groundwork for promising career sin science, technology, engineering and match. “Every kid in this program will have the opportunity to go pro some day. They will use this knowledge for the rest of their lives and make good money at it. We help build resumes.” Taylor said.
In addition to the robotics competition, which gets underway at 8:45 a.m., there will be a silent auction, a food drive and food trucks. “We are asking everybody to bring items for the Ronald McDonald House. We have collected more than 40,000 items over the past eight years. We filled up a U-haul truck, an SUV and part of a bus last year,” he boasted.
Senior Lindsey Fraley is an enthusiastic member of CyberCards. “I like to build things,” she said. “I have gained so much confidence in myself from being on the team. We are just a big family. I feel real close to everyone.
“I previously wanted to pursue a law degree, but that sounds boring now. I am going to study mechanical engineering at IUPUI, and I plan on coming back to serve as a mentor here.”
If Fraley – one of 12 girls on the team, which was all male four years ago – returns, she won’t be the first former robotics junkie to do so. Several of Southport’s mentors were involved in the program at the high school level in other states.
“The hook sets deep,” Taylor said. “This shapes them into the person they become.”