Frisbees, robots, kids ... oh my!

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By Cindy Simpson

When Roane County High School started a robotics team this year, the notion of going to the international competition wasn’t even a thought.

However, that is just what Full Metal Jackets will be doing when they leave for St. Louis April 23 for the world championship.  

“There will be 400 teams competing,” said Cynthia Holmes.

Holmes said FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) has 78 regional competitions throughout the United States and several countries, and the three-team alliance that wins each regional is invited to come as well as the rookie all-star teams and engineering award teams.

Roane County High School’s team, which includes a student from Midway High School, won the rookie all-star team award at the 2013 Smoky Mountain FIRST Robotics Regional Competition last month.

Fifty teams competed in the regional event.

“There were only 10 rookies. The rest were at least two years experience to almost 20,” said Allie Copeland.

Now Holmes and her students are focused on St. Louis.

“We are going to do the best we can — have fun and do the best we can,” Copeland said.

The Frisbee-flinging robot took hours of hard work.

“We only had six weeks to work on it, and for two to three weeks it was just concept and design,” said student Grant Ladd.

“We went through hundreds of ideas and several heated debates,” Copeland added. “Finally a couple of us said ‘OK this is what we’re doing. We are sitting down and voting on this,.”

Teams can design their robots to do different things on the competition field.

Team Full Metal Jackets decided to build a more sturdy model that would climb one level of a pyramid and shoot Frisbees toward goals.

In addition to attempting to score points, the robots can also have defensive elements.

For example, rather than trying to match their adversary in points, the team tried some defensive maneuvering against Oak Ridge High School’s high-scoring robot.

“We thought it would be more beneficial to block them than to try to score as much as they did,” Alli Nelson said.

Team Full Metal Jacket’s robot officially is named Robo-Jacket.

“The unofficial name for the robot is R2prime,” added Sam Starkey.

The main focus of the program is to make subjects like math and science more appealing.

“It is fun. We had a really good time working together. We started out not knowing each other very well. Plus we get experience working on technology,” Nelson said.

“The program is designed so students will possibly pursue a degree in science or engineering,” Nelson added.

Many of the Roane County students plan on pursuing engineering degrees or other fields related to STEM — science, technology, engineering or math.

The students also went to Kingston City Council, the Roane County Commission and civic meetings.

Visit rchsrobotics.webs.com for more about Full Metal Jackets.

The team is currently trying to raise more money to cover the cost of the competition.

Donations from various organizations helped pay the $6,500 entry fee and basic kit. TVA donated $5,000. ORNL added another $3,000, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers contributed $1,000.