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Robotics Club programs real-world skills

Hangar 84 Robotics Club shows their Roswell Spirit on Friday afternoon. In the front row on the floor, Brayden Rook, Cyrus Guiterrez, and Rose Hobbs sit with the robot. Carmen Lucero, Cole Borner, Ariana Pompa, Eric Martinez, and Destiny Torrez stand in the second row with Anthony Martinez in the back row. Mark Gorbitz is not pictured as well as six other members. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The Hangar 84 Robotics Club of Early College High School and University High School shared their experience in forming the club and their first robotics competition.

From March 7-10, Hangar 84 competed in For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition. As a group, the students said they learned more than robotics, but the competition drove them to learn communication, teamwork, business and much more.

“Some of the teams had tremendous robots with high-level technology,” Early College High School teacher Glen Kirk said. “So for our kids in New Mexico to be diving into that world of technology and starting to compete with other states is big. We need to — New Mexico has to step up.”

At the competition at the Lubbock fairgrounds, Hangar 84 won two rookie awards called Highest Rookie Seed and Rookie Inspiration Award sponsored by National Instruments.

“I think a lot of what people are learning in this club is applicable to the real world,” Mark Gorbitz, a homeschooled student and club member said. “We have to learn how to do business, we have to learn about construction and the technical side of things, and then we have to learn how to work with other people. I think everything that the robotics club does prepares people for the real world.”

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Guiding the process

Science teachers Andrea Bautista from University High School and Glen Kirk from Early College High School oversaw Hangar 84’s creation. Bautista said she loved to see the program foster qualities in the students, while she and Kirk served as guides.

Bautista said attending an aerospace exposition in October ignited the interest in the students for robotics, which led the students to ask if they could do something like what they had seen.

“A lot of kids are interested in engineering and robotics,” Principal Porter Cutrell said. “A few of the students came to us. The science teachers took this and ran with it. These guys are not the sage on the stage anymore as they say. They’re the guide on the side. Really, these guys did a great job with this. They just guided the students and they did a lot of different things.”

The event kicked off on Jan. 6 and each team had six weeks to build a robot. Bautista said she became a sponsor three days before the application due date and the process was organic and new to the teachers and students.

With 16 members total, Bautista said a majority of the students in the club are from the Early College High School with one University High School student qualified to go to the competition and one homeschooled student.

Bautista said the students have come from ground zero where they knew nothing about building a robot, wiring, pneumatics, electrical systems or business plans. Now, Bautista said the program fostered skills that allow the students to be confident in the process and their final product.

“They are gladly stepping forward to say that so truly they have taken it on in their own hands,” Bautista said of her students. “They’ve taught themselves so much more than we ever could have taught them. And now, they know how to go and get whatever information they need on their own and go out to other teams and collect that. So really, they are building their own self-sustaining group, which is pretty sweet.”

Bautista said no funding was from the school but came from fundraising from the students. Bautista said Cutrell pushed for this program and offered support in any way he could.

“As we look at the change in education, right now we are really looking at trying to blend and mold what we do in public education to what students need down the road,” Cutrell said. “As you see, the world of work is changing — so for us to continue to do the same stuff and produce the same people to go out in the workforce that doesn’t really exist anymore would be a poor choice.”

Saying he was appreciative of the community’s support, Cutrell said the students sought resources from community members like retired science teachers, veterans and other knowledgeable sources and even a scientist in California over Skype. Cutrell said he is excited to see what will happen with the Robotics Club next year.

Robotic specifications

The students said their robot is named Little Timmy, who weighs 108 pounds. A student programmer, Brayden Rook said the robot’s purpose is to lift milk crates and put them on switches or scales. Rook said the motor spins at 22,000 revolutions per minute, which operates the scissor lift. As a group, the students said in agreement they never believed that they could build a robot, let alone a robot that could lift a cube around 8 feet in the air.

Another student, Cole Borner, said it was pneumatically powered and trying to remove the milk crate from the robot’s grip was impossible.

“So obviously it starts with the battery because that is the power,” Borner said. “The battery has wires that go into the PDP, which is the power distribution panel — but then that distributes all the power to all the different little wiggly bits that we all need to work.”

The classroom broke out into laughter and the students were eager to share more about their robot.

“There’s a brain inside called the roboRIO,” Rook said. “My computer talks to the radio, which is connected to the roboRIO, and we are using a software called LabVIEW to program the robot. I did all of that. LabVIEW is a drag and drop kind of thing — so you have a block that says motor and you connect it through wires that say start or stop — so that’s the how the LabVIEW program works.”

Gorbitz said he did all the driving for the team, web design and banner design.

“I was more influenced in the process of building the robot,” Eric Ramirez said. “I was part of the computer programming and building team, so I kind of did half and half. I learned a lot (from the) experience to the program the robot and what languages there were for programming. I just want to say that with this experience it’s actually going to help me a lot with my field of work that I am going into, which would be engineering and programming, so it helped me a little bit in introducing it to me.”

Beyond robotics

Cyrus Guiterrez and Bautista said the robotics team welcomes any high school aged students who want to join Hangar 84. Saying he happily spent most of the competition networking with other teams and fetching pens, Gutierrez said members can participate in robotics, media, outreach and much more.

Calling the club a fun experience, Ariana Pompa said she learned teamwork and communication skills and her friend Carmen Lucero said it opened her eyes to more opportunities. Pompa and Lucero said they even made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep team members fed at the competition. Destiny Torrez was in charge of the business team and her team members said she did a huge amount of work. Rose Hobbs said she helped build the base of the robot among other projects.

“I mainly helped with the website,” Hobbs said. “I was mainly part of the media group and I learned quite a bit. I know it is not really what I want to go into, but it definitely helps it when you are trying to add to advertise something.”

The student unanimously said their teachers and sponsors were amazing. Carmen Lucero said the teachers and leaders made it possible for the team to get to the competition with bus and hotel rentals, food, fees, applications and materials for the robot.

“Overall the competition brought us together,” Lucero said. “I didn’t talk to three of these people before. Like — I didn’t know that Ariana was a person and now we are best friends. We really have come together as a team and like a family in a way.”

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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