Student robotics team masters tools of trade
Desert Vista High wins national contest
by Cathryn Creno - Jul. 19, 2009 12:00 AM
You've heard of Generation X and Generation Y. Now meet Generation R.
Some members of the latest generation moving through junior and senior high schools these days are learning to design robots before they learn how to drive cars.
"It's kind of cool to know you can build something that another person would have to go out and buy," said Kelsey Booth, 18, and a recent graduate of Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee Foothills.
Booth, who earned three credits of college-level engineering at a special class in her senior year at Desert Vista, recalls getting interested in inventing things when she designed a miniature "smart house" - complete with automatic garage door opener - with Lego parts in elementary school. By high school, she and like-minded friends had moved from Legos to robots in an after-school program run by Desert Vista engineering and technology department Chairman Dan Zavaleta.
This year, Booth lead a team of four that designed and built an underwater robot that won first place in the high-school division at the 2009 National Underwater Robotics Challenge held at Chandler High School last month. Other team members were Desert Vista students Elaine Rhoades, 17, Dominic Chen, 16, and Nick Selby, 15.
Tirupalavanam Ganesh, an assistant dean at Arizona State University's graduate school of education, said increasing numbers of students are developing skills in engineering and robotics before they reach college. A key, he said, are camps and programs like the one at Desert Vista that make designing the machines fun.
"It's an important thing for students to learn early on how to work through a problem using trial and error," said Mark Duplissis, a former Corona del Sol High School assistant principal who now is executive director for high-school relations at ASU.
"It helps them apply the math and science they learn in school to the real world."
Selby, a Desert Vista sophomore, said designing the type of robot that won the recent competition doesn't call for knowledge of advanced calculus and physics. Instead, he said, it requires students to be able to apply basic math and science in real life.
Desert Vista's winning robot was an octagonal-shaped contraption made out of white plumbing pipe, bilge pump motors, a metal hook for performing tasks and borrowed scuba lights and cameras. Chen said he thinks the robot - which they named Octopus - had an edge over its competitors because the team found a way to control its buoyancy by drilling tiny holes in the plumbing pipe that allowed water to flow in.
Booth said each student spent about 100 of their after-school hours working on developing the winning robot.
Jul. 19, 2009 12:00 AM
These teams placed first:
Source: Critical Mass Communications
Jul. 19, 2009 12:00 AM
Desert Vista High School's underwater robotics team took first place in June in the National Underwater Robotics Competition with a machine built from plumbing pipe and borrowed cameras and scuba diving lights.
The contraption cost the student participants in the contest about $300, they said.
In the fall, Desert Vista robotics teacher Dan Zavaleta said, the after-school robotics program will look for local business sponsors. Zavaleta and student team members envision wearing t-shirts with the logos of their sponsors at future competitions.
In addition, the Arizona Promoters of Applied Science in Education, which organizes the contest, is seeking sponsors, said group President Shawna Fletcher.
Honeywell Inc. has sponsored the contest for the last two years.
Fletcher said her organization has filed papers to become a formal non-profit organization to expand its network of donors in the future.
Desert Vista Underwater Robotics Team wins title
Today it's plastic PVC pipe and electrical tape. But what Desert Vista students learned about underwater robotics last weekend at the Chandler High School swimming pool could someday save lives and make headlines. Although they were actually standing on a pool deck in pitch darkness, for a few hours last weekend Kelsey Booth, Dominic Chen and Nick Selby transported themselves to a rescue ship trying to save an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) as a volcano was erupting volcano 2,000 feet below on the ocean floor. The simulation mission was performed in the wee hours of Sunday morning at an exercise for the National Underwater Robotics Challenge. Click here to watch the video. Among the tasks the teams had to perform in a tight time frame were to record and play back the volcano eruption as well locate and recover glow sticks, which in a real situation could have been nuclear bombs or torpedoes. By daybreak Sunday the Desert Vista "Atlantis" team had won the high school division of the competition. "It was our first year, so we hoped to win but we really didn't expect to," Booth said. "We actually lost power at the school to half of the pool and our main camera got knocked out so we had to finish with one camera," Booth added. "But we had got quite a few points before we lost power. We had recorded the sound of the volcano and played it back and we located some of the glow sticks." The Desert Vista team, which took its name from the legendary ancient city, designed and built the working underwater recovery vehicles they nicknamed "Whale" and "Octopus" made with PVC pipe, tape, flashlights, small electric motors attached to propellers, miniature television cameras and several feet of electrical wiring. What started out as an idea in November evolved through the design stage to the actually construction of Whale, a support platform with lights and television camera and a the smaller Octopus that was maneuvered on the actual rescue mission. The craft were finished in the final weeks of May and tested in team members' home swimming pools. Booth, who graduated in May, was the pilot and engineer for the vehicles that were attached to an electrical wiring umbilical cord that provided a connection to the control panel and television monitors. She also plays the cello. "This was my first robotic competition," Booth explained. "I did a project with ASU that involved making a rocket with compressed air, but this was far more technical." It should provide practical training for her when she start to pursue an electrical engineer degree at Arizona State University this fall. Chen, who will be a junior at Desert Vista this fall, has been the computer tech guy of the team and Selby is the co-pilot and operates the Whale, which serves as an underwater platform and backup for Octopus. He is also the "fish," of the team. "What that means is when something failed in our test, I was the one who went into the water to bring everything up," Selby said. The team worked under the supervision of Dan Zavaleta, who is also a diver and has built full scale rescue subs with his brother. "The Air France airline crash off the coast of Brazil happened just as they were finishing up building the robots and I think it made things more current and real," Zavaleta explained. "It was something they were seeing in the news." While the competition didn't have the urgency of the Air France recovery, the timed event did put the students under pressure. "They thought they had been under pressure before," Zavaleta said, "but not studying the night before a math test isn't the same kind of pressure as this where you have to perform." Chen, the computer go-to guy on the team, explained they encountered some problems in the early dives. "We got some water in the cameras and then we had a problems with the lights where all we could see was a little dot on the screen because the camera over-adjusted for the light," Chen said. "The range on the color camera was better overall. Unlike the ocean searches, last weekend's competition was in a pool with a smooth, white title bottom. What we were doing was pretty simplistic," Chen added. "We did have to deal with the silt in the bottom kicked up by the motors and we had a pretty good idea of the layout. But the (US) Navy has a bigger budget." They may have had a shoestring budget but some big bucks know-how helped the team accomplish their mission despite the real-life obstacles.
Ahwatukee Foothills News