The nascent robotics program at Plainview High School put their programming to the test last month.
The high school and middle school teams competed in a BotBall robotics competition in Oklahoma City on March 17, placing 10th and fifth in their divisions respectively. The middle school team also won the judge’s choice award for engineering. Robotics coach Maverick McClendon said the program started last year at the middle school level before expanding to a full program this year. William Oats, an IT assistant for the district, was the one who started the team last year.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” McClendon said. “For the first year, for us to do as well as we did, I’m excited. I’m ready to go back and do even better with these kids.”
The teams used modified and hacked Roombas as the bases for their robots. The robot had to push poms across the table and move a plastic ring down a length of PVC pipe. High school team member Jillian Clark said the group has been building and learning how to code since November.
The teams used tables to plot out the courses and tasks the robots would have to be able to complete, then had to replicate the results at the competition. High school team member Colton Peery said the group was able to prepare their robots ahead of time.
“We initially had two (robots) but because of some of the issues we had, we couldn’t get one up and running,” Peery said.
Anna Wang, also on the high school team, said anyone interested in robotics should consider learning how to program.
“We code in C in Bot Ball,” Wang said. “So if you want to be a programmer, you should probably look into C.”
Vincent Cavallo and Peery original joined the team as engineers, but had to learn how to code the night before the competition.
“We’re going to start diversifying the team,” Peery said. “Everyone’s going to learn to code so we don’t have issues like we did last time.”
Jeremiah Kagan and Jonathan Harris, both middle schoolers, said the team ran into the same issue: Too many builders, not enough programmers.
“We had a lot of members,” Harris said. “ Sometimes it’s difficult to give everyone something to do. You can’t have five people typing on a keyboard at the same time, you just can’t.”
At the competition, one of their robots was stumped by something they couldn’t have foreseen. The robot was programmed to read black lines on the course with its camera, but couldn’t read them as well because of the different overhead lighting.
“It took about five tries at the competition for it to start actually working,” Harris said.
He said learning to code takes diligence and immersion.
“It’s like learning a new language,” Harris said, “You need to see it a lot and know the syntax. You know what to say, you just need to know how to say it.”