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Webb prepares for ‘Lunacy’

The word “lunacy” can be defined as “any form of insanity.”

For this year’s Webb School of Knoxville robotics team, Team No. 1466, that has meant spending days, nights and weekends since Jan. 5 feverishly building a robot ready for international competition. It’s also the name and fitting description of this year’s FIRST Robotics challenge.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics competition is an annual contest that helps students discover the rewards and excitement of education and careers in science, engineering and technology. At the beginning of January, all FIRST teams were shown this year’s game challenge and received a common inventory of parts and a manual of game rules and robot design regulations, but no instructions.

Working with adult mentors, the students have just six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots to compete in high-intensity tournament play against other robots.

This year marks Webb’s sixth showing at the FIRST contest. For this year’s game, Team No. 1466 decided that the best thing not to do is aim. “The challenge requires a lot of throwing from the side,” explains David Pierce, Webb Upper School math teacher and robotics faculty co-advisor. “It’s going to be chaotic – six robots on the field with these trailers. And these trailers can go side-to-side, just like a boat trailer on your car going down the highway – they can jackknife. So if you try to aim one of the moon rocks into the trailer; by the time you get your aim down, the trailer’s gone.”

With the help of adult mentors Bill Crosby and John Young, the Webb team has come up with a robot design that focuses more on picking the balls up off the field.

“The students decided, ‘well, all these balls will be lying around; why not have our robot pick them up, put them in a hopper, and when we get close to an opponent’s basket, we’ll just dump our hopper,’” said Pierce. To cover as much area as possible, Team No. 1466 is using the 38-inch side of their 28-by-38-inch robot as its front. Robot No. 1466 rolls over the “Orbit” balls and through a conveyor belt system, the balls are fed to the top and dumped into a hopper. The robot’s pneumatic system then allows the hopper to spring open and forcefully eject its load of balls. “We think it’s an excellent design,” Pierce said. “Beautiful and powerful, and we think it’s going to work very well.”

Team No. 1466 started working on its robot immediately following January’s challenge kick-off. Student teams made to-scale models using a variety of materials – from LEGOS to plywood to cardboard. They presented their models and voted on what features would work best for their final robot.

Rebeccah Collins, Webb Upper School physics teacher and robotics faculty co-advisor, noted that Team No. 1466 members, including a new bunch of very enthusiastic freshmen, took ownership over all aspects of the project from the get-go. “The kids are doing amazing work,” Colloins said. “They’re using physics, trigonometry, CAD, and writing code, and really rising to the challenge. They come to the robotics lab and I say ‘I want this’ and they’re on it. And they enjoy it and they love being in the middle of it.”

“This is about the kids accomplishing something,” Pierce said. “They can take huge pride in what they do because they’re really doing most of it. It builds their confidence for the future and for some of these students, this is where they blossom.”

Webb’s robotics team will again compete at the FIRST Palmetto Regional, March 26-28, in Clemson, S.C., and will be the only team representing Tennessee.


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