Janesville high school robotics team prepares for competition

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Nick Crow
Saturday, February 15, 2014

JANESVILLE — Sometimes things just don't go right.

Sometimes that's the point, says Joe Miller, student adviser for the FIRST Robotics Team, comprising Parker and Craig students interested in robotics.

The group's Thursday night test run on its robot, designed to throw an exercise ball, was over before it began. The robot's motor didn't have enough torque to throw the ball, so students spent the evening ordering a new part to be delivered express to meet their Tuesday deadline.

"That's how they learn," Miller said. "They face these problems in the real world. As mentors, we give them guidance. But if they are faced with a problem, they have to solve it."

The team, now in its fourth year, is formally called US FIRST Robotics Team No. 3962, the Rock 'n' Robots.

"It's just stuff we like to do," said Anthony Pierson, a 16-year-old Parker junior. "I've been doing it all of high school."

Pierson, who plans to major in electrical or mechanical engineering in college, said the club is entirely funded by donations and is always strapped for cash.

His brother, Kyle, also a junior at Parker, said problems just help the group be more resilient.

"I've always been into it," he said. "We have a deadline to meet, and if we don't meet it, too bad."

FIRST stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, founded the organization, now at more than 3,000 high schools around the world.

"Kids create these robots with no manuals or anything," said Tom Heiss, student adviser for the group. "It's pretty amazing."

The group has its first warm-up competition Saturday near Madison. It will help members work out the tweaks on their robot before big competitions March 5-8 in Duluth, Minn., and March 19-22 in Milwaukee.

The theme for the 2014 competition, Aerial Assist, is a game played by two competing teams of three robots each. Their objective is to score as many balls in goals as possible during a 2-minute, 30-second match.

Craig student Nick Matchett is in his first year with the group. He said he got involved because he thought it would be interesting and thought designing robots was cool.

"The gearing needs to be stronger," Matchett said. "We'll have to figure it out ourselves."

As the students worked on their robot into the evening Thursday, it was apparent the club is more than just a hobby for many of them.

"My goal is to impart my skills and expertise and to show them that not everything is out of a textbook," Miller said. "Showing them how to do things hands-on is how they learn. It gets them to think and use teamwork."

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