A.U.C. Robotics Team Wins Regionals!

A.U.C. Robotics Team Wins Regionals!, Qualifies to National Competition for Second Consecutive Year

In January 2012, the Robotics group of the Archimedean Upper Conservatory took one more step towards establishing itself as one of the most promising and competitive groups among South Florida high schools. For the second year in the row a team from our ArchSci: Robotics group, under the guidance of Mr. Gustavo Palacios (ArchSci: Robotics coach and AMC science teacher), won first place in Miami-Dade’s SECME/Science Fair & Engineering competition and qualified again for the National Competition that will take place in June at the University of Alabama.

The Archimedean Upper Conservatory Robotics club (ArchiSci: Robotics) began as the natural result of our growing science technology, engineering, and math program. Our students were already receiving the highest quality instruction in Mathematics and Science, they were already being exposed to cutting edge technology in and out of the classroom, and they were already being challenged beyond school hours through extracurricular activities like Science Olympiad and SECME.

Through ongoing professional development and networking, our faculty became aware of the existence of a few robotics organizations that provided students with annual challenges and competitive educational experiences. These organizations include VEX Robotics and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) which was founded by inventor Dean Kamen to promote a culture where science and technology are part of the “New Cool”. Under the direction of Dr. Kafkoulis and motivated by student interest we began investigating the available platforms for both hardware and software. After careful consideration and cautious investments, we began our first robotics club as part of the already existing SECME Engineering club. A small number of students were given the opportunity to work with the VEX Robotics hardware and software to build some basic robots and explore the nearly limitless possible ways to modify and improve these robots.

This group of students began working about an hour a week on this project and quickly learned the many different hardware options and how to connect them. Over the weeks, the students learned the value of careful design and the importance of logical troubleshooting. As part of the SECME organization, the students would have a chance to compete in the regional SECME VEX tournament. Each year the VEX organization announces a new “game” in which student teams will be paired with one team and face off against two other teams in completing certain tasks to score points. The competition had two parts, the first is an autonomous period during which the robot will execute a program written by students and transferred on to the CPU, the second is a remote-controlled period in which the students guide the robot’s actions via wireless remote.

In the end, one team of three students competed in the regional tournament and won 1st place. As a result, the students were invited to compete at the National SECME Competition in Tuscaloosa, AL. As the competition approached the students’ excitement and commitment increased. Working two to three hours a week with their engineering coach, they completed a series of redesigns of the robot and began the complex task of prototyping, testing, and modifying. In a very short period of time, the students went from having no experience with robotics to designing, developing, programming, and troubleshooting. The students learned about gear ratios, speed power tradeoffs, redundancy, back-ups, and designing robust systems. At nationals, the team competed with the champions from regional competitions all over the southeast as well as New York and California. After some fierce competition, the ArchiSci: Robotics team came in second place in the National tournament.

The success of our first year led to an even greater interest in developing a complete robotics curriculum in the school. This year we committed to the VEX robotics platform with a $4000 investment in 4 basic robot kits plus 2 competition upgrade kits. We opened the year with four teams of students (Alejandra Acevedo, Isaac Barreto, Gavin Chin, Alexandros Christodoulou Rubalcava, Jose-Carlo Fairlie, Christian Gil, Shiva Kangeyan, Lenny Martinez, Antonio Menarde, Mia Olmedillo, Jesse Valdez) preparing for SECME and VEX Robotics competitions. The students prepared for two months, working around 2 hours a week (one hour of guided design and construction and another hour of independent work with supervision). The students learned to program the robots using the RobotC programming platform to get information from sensors and drive motors and mechanisms. Programming the robots introduces the students to computer languages, debugging, control structures as well as applied logic. We competed at two local tournaments in the fall one at Gulliver Preparatory and the other at Belen Jesuit (both private schools with full robotics programs).

After competing with some of the best and most experienced teams in the area the students came away with a greater sense of confidence and are determined to start early in the summer and improve their standing during the next competition cycle. Since we could only register one team for the SECME competition in February, our best team was registered and went on to win 1st place again! They are currently working on improving their design for their second shot at the 1st place trophy at SECME Nationals in Tuscaloosa, AL this June.

Our robotics program currently includes hardware and software for four full teams of students. With the support of faculty as well as Mr. Demopoulos and Dr. Kafkoulis, the students are being guided in their exploration of mechanical/electrical engineering and computer science.
The faculty continues to research and explore options for expanding the program and reaching more students. We are active in the SECME and VEX Robotics organizations but plan to add FIRST robotics to our agenda next year. We have even spread the robotics fever to the Archimedean Academy which celebrated its first season in the First Lego League with a trophy recognizing the team of 3rd through 5th graders as “Rising Stars”.

Congratulations to all ArchiSci: Robotics team members and good luck to the A.U.C. team that will compete in the Nationals in June!