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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2005

Teams hope robot rig grabs technical gold

BY JACK BAESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Team Tech Fusion members from Toledo Technology Academy and Rogers High School watch mentor Bruce Vanisacker tweak their robot at Dana Corp.'s Technical Resource Center. The team has worked on its robot for nearly six weeks. Team Tech Fusion members from Toledo Technology Academy and Rogers High School watch mentor Bruce Vanisacker tweak their robot at Dana Corp.'s Technical Resource Center. The team has worked on its robot for nearly six weeks.
NORTZ / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

OTTAWA LAKE, Mich.- A remote control robot - its whirring motors and clacking metal frame still in need of fine tuning - was introduced by student teams from Toledo Public Schools on a makeshift stage last night at the Dana Technology Resource Park here.

If the past is prologue, other schools that will face it soon in a regional competition should be afraid, very afraid.

On it rides the best of what the Toledo students have to offer in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

"It's like a [remote control] car on steroids, and it has a brain," said Isaac Weintraub, a senior at the Toledo Technology Academy who does computer-aided design for the project.

This will not be a beauty contest. Just as in sports, whoever scores the most points wins. In this year's game, the robot must be able to stack three-sided pyramids called tetras into an attached basket.

Using a remote control, an operator moves the robot carrying the tetras, then unloads them, tipping and spinning them one at a time onto a goal to score.

Students working in small groups were given a set of motors, a basic frame and transmission, the game's instructions, and little else in early January.

They've worked nearly six weeks to design and build the robot, rigging the chains and cables, and making most of the parts, such as the telescoping frame and forklift arms, at the Dana facility. Dana engineers mentor the students.

"A lot of the design work is done by the kids, and the mentors give some tips," said Albert Nowakowski, a senior at the academy who is in his third year with the program. "The mentors step back when it is being built."

"We still have a lot of details to work out," he said. "The [goal] will catch tetras three out of four times. We want to make it four out of four."

The motors that propel the robots and its arms are nothing special. They come in two types - slow and powerful or fast and weak, Mr. Nowakowski said.

Many of them have automotive applications. They open and close car windows, or they open side doors of vans. The challenge for students is to gear them so the robot will work without faltering.

Bosch drill motors are a favorite, he said.

"They are usually a staple on robots," Mr. Nowakowski said.

The robot was introduced last night to family and friends by students from the academy and Rogers High School.

Students from Toledo Public Schools have entered the FIRST Robotics Competition for seven years. Toledo was a finalist last year in the national competition and shared in the national championship in 2001, beating out more than 300 teams from around the country.

FIRST, which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," was the brainchild of Dean Kamen, inventor of the two-wheeled Segway battery-powered human transport vehicle.

Toledo's robot must be crated and in the mail by Tuesday to participate in the upcoming Great Lakes regional competition in Ypsilanti, Mich. The competition runs March 10-12.

Besides building a robot, team members, like Melissa Bilby, must devise strategy for how to play the game when the robot is put through its paces in competition.

"I like it because there is a better feeling when you do all this together," said the junior at the academy. "You know you couldn't do it on your own or with just another person."

She said it was too early to assess the group's chances for this year. "I think we have to see the competition in Ypsilanti."

Contact Jack Baessler at:

jbaessler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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