Opp#039;s top bots rock

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

When the 11 students from Opp Middle School and Opp High School traveled to San Francisco earlier this month, they did not come home empty handed. One of the nicest souvenirs they brought back from the Battle Bot IQ 2003 competition was a first place plaque - but it isn't exactly the first place they went out there looking for.

The Opp team, and their battle bots "Eraser" and "Buzzkill" were competing in the nationwide Battle Bot Championship as part of the Battle Bot IQ program - a technology lesson plan that has been used by both Opp and Zion Chapel high schools in conjunction with the Tech Prep Program sponsored by what was

MacArthur State Technical College.

"We competed as two teams," said OHS sophomore Cory Johnson, a member of the team. "We cold have ended up competing against each other."

"Our big bots made it through three rounds," said Gary Driver, the career technologies instructor at OHS, referring to the two, large battle bots the students built this year. "We felt like we accomplished something here. There were more than 50 robots from across the states and we placed in the top 20.

We were not one of the ones who lost two and went home."

And while the poor "Eraser" did, in fact, lose the first two rounds in the double-elimination competition, "Buzzkill" did some serious damage before it was taken out by one of the "killsaws" - spinning saw blades that emerge from the competition floor.

"It did some damage," bragged senior Allen Baynard. "It was the only robot from Alabama that won a match."

But the team wasn't going to come home without some glory of its own. When they arrived on the West Coast, they received a box full of what might appear to the uninitiated as being a pile of junk. To the students, it was a goldmine that would lead to their victory.

"We competed in the mini bots competition," said Driver. "They take a group of the individuals from the teams and give them a box of parts on Friday, and on Sunday morning they have a competition. Basically they build a mini bot, about 20 pounds, and you go four-on-four."

The team only knew about the secondary competition about a week before heading out for the coast and the Mare Island navy base where the battles were staged.

There were several judging criteria in the four-way mini bot competition, where the robots could score by removing obstacles from the course, or by racking up negative points by corralling the obstacles - and the other mini bots - in their own corner.

four on four.

"Strategy plays a crucial role in it," said Driver. He said the team decided to go with a bulldozer-style design and spent their three minutes in each round basically destroying the other bots and pushing them to our corner. There were a lot of balls in the obstacle course and that made it difficult. You'd try to give it a little push and it would keep on rolling. We went around destroying the other bots, and pushing them into our corner."

The Opp bot racked up

-56 points in the first round, -12 in the second (in which they captured all the other

mini bots) and - 28 in the final round. The end result - a nationwide championship in that class, called the Hi-Lo Battle Ball, sponsored by Gears International.

"They sell these kits to schools, basically boxes of parts to teach robotics. It was to give them something to do at night instead of hanging out in the hotel room with nothing to do," said Driver.

The team has had experience with "instant robotics" before, said Driver. He said the students have competed in the Alabama Best competition, in which they send boxes of parts - no instructions - and the students have to create a robot in a few weeks. Last year, they placed fourth out of 65 teams from across the state.

Creating one in a few hours didn't seem to pose a serious problem for the eleven students.

Overall, Driver felt the experience was very good for the students.

"The kids interacted with other kids

- it was one of the most valuable concepts. They met other kids from across the U.S. who think like them, who are creative. I've had several kids who decided, not just after the competition, but after the whole year of working on this, they want to go into engineering, they want to go into robotics.

It was a life changing experience for a lot of them."

The students who attended agree.

"We learned a lot about what we've got to do to win next year, " said Matthew Franklin, another sophomore on the team.

"I enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of designs and robots, said Johnson. "I got to drive one of them- I really enjoyed that. A lot of the teams were staying at the same hotel and we got to talk to people from all over the country."

Driver was especially grateful for the assistance MacArthur State provided for the program and for other local sponsors as well.

"We couldn't have done it without them," he said.

After finally being eliminated from the big bot competition, the students had Sunday afternoon to explore Northern California. With the five adults who chaperoned, Cory Johnson, Brandon Whigam, Brandon Reed, Matthew Franklin, Joshua Driver, Allen Maynard, Alyssa Phillips, Whitney Jackson, Jessica Howell, and Molly Johnson toured Napa Valley, Fisherman's Wharf and the Sequoia Forest. They got to peer at Alcatraz Island after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and they got to walk in the Pacific Ocean.

"We hope to go back next year - it's depending on funding of course," said Driver. "We hope the community will see the benefits of this program."

The team is already making plans for next year.

"If anybody out there wants to donate some titanium, that would be great," said Johnson, only half joking. 'A lot of the bots had it - the winning bot had a titanium flipper."

Strategy again is the key word as they make plans. One of the lessons they learned?

"Avoid the kill saws," said Franklin. "They were launching robots into the air."

As for poor "Eraser" and "Buzzkill" - their days as instruments of destruction may be numbered, but there lives as instruments of education will continue.

"There are some other things we can do with them," said Johnson, who then added, '"But we are looking - we've found some more competitions out there."