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CHHS students place in national robotics competition

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By Sarah Bennett

When the Central Hardin High School Technology Student Association club decided to participate in the state robotic competition, its initial goal was to have a robot at the tournament.

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“We were just kind of going to state this year to see what it was all about and hoping we didn’t finish last,” said Jason Neagle, a pre-engineering teacher with Central Hardin’s Project Lead the Way.

The Bruins ultimately finished third and fifth in the state TSA VEX Robotics competition and qualified for the national TSA competition.

On July 2, five pre-engineering students and Neagle returned home from Orlando, Fla., after placing ninth and 16th in the national TSA competition, which consisted of more than 100 teams from across the country.

Seniors Jacob Wooton and Michael Riggs, juniors Cody Bybee and Austin Basham, and 2013 graduate Adam Risner were divided into two teams and each group was assigned a robot.

In addition to placing with his team, Risner also ranked fifth in the national TSA Technology Bowl.

Throughout the school year as the students delved further into the construction of their robots, Neagle said the club grew more competitive, doing much of the work on their own outside of school.

“They do the work before and after school and on their own at home,” he said. “It’s kind of an extension of the (Principles of Engineering class). It’s not just the work they do in class. This is taking it above and beyond the basic principles that they learn in class and then adding to those.”

According to Neagle, the students went through 15 to 20 robot designs before settling on the current one in March. Once the design was chosen, they had to practice driving the robots.

“We had a course set up in my basement that I drove every day when school let out,” said Bybee, who along with Risner drove the robots in competition.

The robotics competitions are divided into programming and robot driving challenges. To qualify, students compete in two one-minute rounds, one during which the robot is driver-operated and another in which the students program the robot to complete the course, Neagle explained.

The course consists of colored bean bags, and the objective is to direct the robot to retrieve the team’s color and score the bags into their assigned goal, he said.

To practice driving the robots, Neagle said he set up a baseball-type scoreboard and Risner and Bybee would complete three games with 10 innings per game.

“When they got done, I’d make them calculate the mean, median and mode of their scores to figure out where they were at,” he said.

“We started out with these robots — a bit less fine-tuned, a bit less built — scoring about 75 points,” said Risner, who is attending University of Kentucky in the fall to study aerospace engineering. “In the end, our top score was 220 after a couple months of practice and fine-tuning the robots.”

Risner and Bybee said they lost count of the number of hours they spent studying and researching robotics outside of the classroom.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount just being here after school and doing all the studying and research and building (the robot),” Bybee said.

“Also the teamwork skills and learning all the concepts,” Risner added, “mainly the design process of engineering, identifying the problem and brainstorming, designing the robot and testing it, learning how that actually applies to the real world and how you can actually use that to make something.”

The Bruins intend to field three teams next year with five or six students per team, Neagle said, as well as participating in more competitions. With the exception of Risner, the remaining students will return, and the teacher said he will divide those veterans up among the teams.

New robot specifications are released each school year, Bybee said, which means the students must begin working on a new design in August.

“The concepts they learned, they’re going to take that knowledge into next year, whereas they started out at zero this year,” Neagle said. “So that’s going to help them progress on their project this year. It’s going to be easier.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.