Lake Fong/Post-Gazette 05212016 Stephanie Ritenbaugh Local Joel Faton, a 10th grader from West Mifflin High School controls the robot during a battle at the National Robotics League Championship at California University on Saturday, May 21, 2016.
Lake Fong/Post-Gazette 05212016 Stephanie Ritenbaugh Local Salon Smitherman, center, a sophomore from Canon-Mac High School controls the robot during a battle at the National Robotics League Championship at California University on Saturday, May 21, 2016.
Lake Fong/Post-Gazette 05212016 Stephanie Ritenbaugh Local Chris Johnston, left, and Jhsia Miles of Clairton High School High School work on their robot prior to the National Robotics League Championship at California University on Saturday, May 21, 2016.
Lake Fong/Post-Gazette 05212016 Stephanie Ritenbaugh Local Josh Christman, left, Shawn Cook and Brandon Kostich of Plum Area High School work on their robot prior to the National Robotics League Championship at California University on Saturday, May 21, 2016.
By Stephanie Ritenbaugh / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CALIFORNIA, Pa. — In one of two the rings set up for the double-elimination competition, two remote-controlled robots faced off. Sparks flew when they clashed, and finally, the bout was stopped due to “smoke and fire,” the emcee announced to the auditorium.
“That’s going on the website,” Bill Padnos said to a cheering crowd.
The winner of that round was a team from Beaumont School, an all-girls school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. They were one of 63 teams to participate in the National Robotics League competition held this year at California University of Pennsylvania. The competition drew teams from seven states and Puerto Rico.
The bouts alternated between two rings, where battle bots went head to head in a gladiator-style competition and, frequently, flipped each other around like pancakes.
In the end, it was Pine-Richland High School in Pine Township whose robot, The Punisher, battled to grand champion honors. A trophy and $500 prize goes to the team with the highest combined score. First place went to Conchranton Junior-Senior High School and their bot, Juggernaut, in Meadville. Second place went to Carnegie Mellon University’s Disko. Third place went to Ebensburg’s Admiral Peary School District and their bot, The Joker.
After their round, the Beaumont team could be found in the pit behind the stage, with their bot “Stobor” opened up for repairs before the next fight. The name is “robots” spelled backward “because we reverse engineered the robot,” said Margaret Schiffer, a junior.
Developing Stobor took seven months, with the team working with their sponsor Christopher Tool Manufacturing in Cleveland, to use equipment and other resources they may not have access to. One member of the team drives, while the other operates the weapon.
One local team from Plum School District worked with Jennison Corp. in Carnegie for their robot, Knockout. They retired their last one Still N Shock after last year’s competition in Cleveland.
“This one is smaller and faster,” said Joe Doerfler, a senior at Plum High School. He said he is going on to The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg to study mechanical engineering.
The National Robotics League is a program under the Cleveland-based National Tooling and Machining Association that encourages students to explore Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM-related, subjects. Students design and engineer their robot and have to provide extensive documentation of their process from conception on.
The program also fosters connections between students and manufacturing companies that are in need of skilled workers, especially as the industry braces for a wave of retirements and a shrinking pool of young workers to fill in the gaps. And that’s even taking into account jobs that can be performed through automation, said Steven Tamasi, NRL commissioner.
The organization cites a Deloitte study for the Manufacturing Institute stating that the country faces a need for nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade.
“This promotes STEM education in a way that’s fun where they can be more engaged, and, in some cases, not intimidated by science or math,” Mr. Tamasi said. “The kids aren’t really thinking about physics as they’re doing this. They’re figuring out how their robot can beat another one.
“They flip each other like quarters in the ring,” he said.
Students from South Park School District, like many others, also had their robot open up for repairs between fights. Julietta Maffeo, a junior, and Sam Hartman, a sophomore, were bent over the machine with tools in hand.
The team worked with Durametal Products in Irwin to develop their bot, The Millenium Falcon — armed with a metal disk with large teeth.
While most of the participants came from schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio, some came from as far away as Arizona and Puerto Rico.
The students from the University of Puerto Rico took it upon themselves to revive interest in the competition after the last team graduated and there was a lull in interest.
“There are no regional competitions like this in Puerto Rico, so it’s the NRL competition,” where the team gets to see how the robot, Carey, performs in the ring, said Reinaldo Alciade. The name is in tribute to an endangered turtle species in the Caribbean, they said. They worked with GM.
Alberto Rosado said the team is trying to get more interest from other schools to start up similar robotics programs on the island.
He pointed to the binder on the work table with their documentation and noted they want to be able to pass on their knowledge to other students. “We don’t want them to have to re-learn everything, but to keep improving on the base we created and take it to new heights.”
“We don’t want this to die off after we graduate,” said Mr. Alciade.
Stephanie Ritenbaugh: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-4910.
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