May 14, 2015 –
High school, elementary, middle school and college students came from around the world to compete at Albuquerque’s RoboRAVE International 2015 May 2, but members of Portales High School’s MESA program took home top honors. Portales sophomores Nicholas Brown and Tyler Eslick, under the team name SALT, spent one year preparing their robot to compete in the RoboRAVE’s firefighting event and put their work to the test to take first place over teams from the Czech Republic, Argentina, China, New Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
Brown said his team’s goal for their robot was to program it to navigate a course’s barriers and blow out candles in the process.
Brown said the team worked for two hours after school every Wednesday for a year to complete the project.
The robot used sensors and motors to navigate the course and blew out the candles using a fan that was programmed to oscillate. “There’s a giant mat that has borders and a robot has to navigate entire mat and blow out four candles,” Brown said. Eslick said he and Brown built a robot using a kit similar to Lego blocks to construct the robot around motors and a “brain” that houses the program the students coded to guide the robot. The students had completed a version of their robot in December, but spent January through April tweaking the coding for the robot and moving the sensors the robot uses to navigate. “We started writing the program last summer,” Eslick said.
Both Eslick and Brown said the most challenging part of their project was the making minor changes to code and running tests. “There was a lot of tweaking it to get it to work just right and a lot of stop and go testing” Brown said. Brown said the team practiced on a mat layout much like the one used during the competition, but the changes to the competition course had Brown and Eslick tweaking their programming at the event. PHS science teacher and robotics sponsor Jack Willis said the students programmed their robot to tackle the course in a way none of the other teams had done.
Willis said Brown and Eslick programmed the robot to leave the course and come back, a legal move, according to the RoboRAVE rules, to get around some of the course’s obstacles and blow out candles.
Eslick said the competition was nerve racking because the robot wasn’t executing the program exactly as intended every time. He said the team worked out the bugs and got the robot to work for their final run.
Willis said the PHS team was the only one to blow out all four candles in the finals.
“We spent hundreds of hours working on it, mostly coding and troubleshooting,” Brown said.
“It meant a lot to win this,” Eslick said. “It took like almost a year to get this working, and it was relieving that it worked at the competition.” Brown said he and Eslick were awarded $400 each for their win which they plan to put towards upgrades for the robot they will build for RoboRAVE 2016.