In the Robotics Lab at Boulder City High School, sandwiched between the auto shop and the football field, members of the 2023 team (called the High Scalers) use handheld joysticks to guide their mechanical creation through a series of tasks in preparation for a regional contest this weekend.
The device, which looks sort of like a frame for a metal pyramid, reaches out a pair of claws and picks up a yellow plastic traffic cone from a table at one end of the room, as team member Ben Porter manipulates the joysticks, the team’s creation whirls around and faces in the opposite direction and charges toward the other end of the room.
Then it pulls up as if it were a horse whose rider had yanked back on an invisible pair of reins and comes to an abrupt halt in front of a wooden staircase of sorts with a pole rising out of each stair. The two arms raise the cone above the pole. A little more joystick wiggling by Porter positions the cone and the arms descend and then open. The cone is now on the pole and the robot turns again to the other side of the room to do the same thing again.
After a two-year pause in competition in 2020 and 2021, the BCHS team excelled in the 2022 competition and hopes to expand on that success this year. “We have some great kids and they have put in a lot of work,” says team mentor John Richner as he leads the way into the unmarked lab. Richner first got involved back in 2009 and it happened really by accident.
After wandering into a competition from a computer users’ group meeting, he says he thought that robotics would be something his own child might enjoy. “I started asking around and found out that we could, indeed, have a team but the cost just seemed too high,” he says noting that just to register a team was north of $5,000.
But organizers urged him not to give up and explained that there were grants and sponsorships available. “We put it all together very quickly. By the time I knew anything about this, the deadline for putting in a grant request was literally the following day.” He went home, put together a proposal, got it accepted and the team was born.
They will be competing Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy., in Las Vegas. Practice matches begin at noon on Thursday and run until 6:30 p.m.
Friday will see the official opening of the tournament, with opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. and matches beginning at 9 a.m., with the same schedule running again on Saturday.
In competition, teams will be combined into “alliances” of three teams each. All of the teams in the alliance will have to work together cooperatively to retrieve and place objects while the teams in the opposing alliance try to stop them from succeeding. All of the robots will have to first complete the series of tasks in “autonomous mode” guided only by sensors. Then, the team will take control and attempt to place additional objects for more points.
As an end-game task, the robots for all three teams in an alliance will have to balance on a single platform similar to a teeter-totter.
The competition is free and open to the public. There is also a live-stream of the event available at twitch.tv/FIRSTnevada.
If you can’t make it out this weekend, Richner encourages those interested to drop by the lab. “We’re here pretty much every school day after 6 and most Saturdays, too.”