Instructions not included

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dallas Ham and Ryan Williams work to put pieces together for the robot based on their conceptual drawings. | Kendra Bolling/Star-NEws

Ready. Set. Build.

That’s the challenge a group of Straughn High School students has accepted, but with no instructions.

The group, known as the Straughn First Robotics Team No. 3549, has been preparing for the past five weeks for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition in Orlando, Fla.

The team is being sponsored by the local JCPenney store, and will be the only Alabama team in the competition.

The team was formed earlier this school year when SHS special services teacher Sherri Williams was “trying to find a way to encourage students to get involved in math and science.”

Williams convinced five students – Ryan Williams, Michael Hudson, Dallas Ham, Zachary Williams and Chris Gay – to join the robotics team.

“Mrs. Williams called us up and asked if we wanted to do it,” Ham said.

To begin with, the team prepared a test project with a robot that PowerSouth purchased for them.

Then they moved on to the new FIRST robot.

“It’s a brain challenge,” Zachary Williams said. “It really opens up your eyes to something that is complicated. It comes with no instructions, and we have to figure out what to with it.”

Depending on the contest, the students must use all of the pieces shipped to them and only those items, while some contests allow them to improvise and add to the selection.

The kit comes with parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a personal computer and a mix of automation components.

“Like with this second one, they gave us a chassis, but we didn’t like it,” Hudson said. “We built one, but we found out when we were about to ship it that we needed to put it on a massive weight loss program, it was way too heavy.”

Each say they learned how important a plan is to the design process.

“It makes things flow a lot smoother,” Zachary Williams said.

Additionally, the boys have also learned to work with computer programs.

“They gave us the computer program, and we had to learn about it,” said Ryan Williams.

The team is also learning to problem solve in a group setting.

“Our first plan was to have a numeric arm, but you couldn’t control it,” Zachary Williams said. “We ordered a new motor, and it still didn’t work. So we put them all together with 3,000 torque and we still have to work at it.”

Despite the blips along the way, Ham said there has been no tension among the teammates.

“It’s helping us work in a team setting, and learning devotion,” said Zachary Williams.

Williams, who is also the mother of two teammates, said it’s been interesting seeing the boys take a whole box of parts, not knowing what they are and create something out of it.

“I think this is saying, it’s OK to be smart,” she said. “And it’s OK not to play ball.”

A portion of the project has already been sent to Orlando, and will be awaiting the team’s arrival next week, while the students will continue working on the final part of the robot – up to 30 pounds of parts.