The ball comes down the court in the hands of a 120-pound player, the crowd cheering. The shot goes up – the other team tries to block it – but it’s good! It’s like he was programmed to do it.
Welcome to WVROX, shorthand for “West Virginia Robotics Extreme,” a competition featuring robots, not basketball players.
Teams of more than 300 top high school science, technology, engineering and math students from the United States and Canada will pit their man-made metal robots against each other over a 26-hour period from Aug. 1-2 at the West Virginia University Student Recreation Center in a basketball-like game called Aerial Assist.
The event will be a “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” robotics competition. FIRST aims to inspire youth to take on science and technology leadership positions and develop a wide variety of skills. In addition to building and programing robots, teams have to fundraise, brand themselves and learn to work together.
“This will be the first time a FIRST robotics event will be held in West Virginia, and the first endurance event in the history of high school robotics,” said Earl Scime, WVU professor of physics and co-founder of Mountaineer Area RoboticS, the local high school robotics program.
As the local host team, Scime and his students came up with the idea for this long-winded event during a “crazy, middle of the night discussion,” then spent eight months planning and working with the University to make it happen.
“This is a great event for the University to attract students interested in STEM,” Scime said. “We want to bring top engineering- and science- minded students to get exposure to WVU and come to campus.”
Many of the MARS team members have found their career paths through the program, and are continuing with those passions at the University.
Nick Ohi, for example, was a MARS programmer and driver as a high school student, and is now an aerospace engineering student at WVU. He was a key team member of the WVU robotics team that recently won $5,000 from NASA for being the only team in the competition to successfully complete their assigned task.
Another former MARS member, Greg Lusk, was a lead electrical member of a WVU-led rocket launch from the Wallops launch facility in Virginia last month.
Robotics provides more than just STEM education to its participants. Kari DeMicco discovered her love for business during her time as an outreach coordinator for the MARS program.
Now a sophomore in WVU’s College of Business and Economics, she spent countless hours in high school spreading her knowledge of STEM education throughout the state, and communicating the Mountaineer Area RoboticS methods and successes to others in the robotics community. She also helped create the team’s award-winning business plan in 2013.
“Being a part of MARS guided my career choice,” DeMicco said. “Based on the work I did for the team, I knew I wanted to head in a business path for my future. Many of the things I learned through MARS, I’ve already applied in my college career, like working with business plans. I figured since I enjoyed most of the stuff I did for MARS, it just made sense to try to make a living out of what I learned.”
DeMicco credits a lot of her MARS successes to Scime, who she says was a father figure to her and her teammates, and recommends high school students get involved in his program.
“He is a leading force for education in West Virginia, and he wants a bright and shining future for students in generations to come. MARS is a wonderful program: There is a task for everyone to do, it helps foster interest in many fields of study and it teaches so many skills that a formal school setting doesn’t.”
In the WV-ROX game, robots will take a two-foot diameter exercise ball across a court, pass to each other and throw it through different goals. They earn points by successfully making goals (worth up to 10 points), throwing the ball over a 5-foot-high truss (10 points) and assisting each other moving the ball down the court (worth up to 30 points).
Each team had six weeks in the spring to build their robot. Putting in 40-50 long hours a week, these high school students crafted their robots using metal, heavy-duty batteries, bumpers, sensors, cameras, infrared and various vision systems. Each has its own IP address and can be controlled through Wi-Fi.
One section of the game will allow students to control the robots from their computers, but there is also an “autonomous period” in which the robots receive points for completing their tasks through pre-programmed actions – without human intervention.