Keep it simple, take the prize

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Contest proves costliest, complex not always best

By Cindy Simpson



Robotics projects took center stage at Midway Middle School last week, when engineers in the making showed off their skills in an after-school competition.

Three teams of students put their robotics know-how to the test by designing parts on finished remote-control projects.

The projects were made to simulate transportation of hazardous waste.

The winning vehicle was also the simplest and cheapest. It pushed a faux toxic barrel — a medicine-bottle-sized object.

“It is very simple,” said Paul Coley of the ERIS team. “Almost ingenious, really.” 

That comment elicited chuckles from the judges. 

“I like it,” said Amy Greene, a marketing consultant with IPSOS. 

Though Greene admitted she was initially leery of the cheapest, she explained that fewer moving parts makes the project less likely to have things break down. 

The team also offered a warranty to sweeten the deal. 

“It will last a very long time,” ERIS team member Lillian Bacon offered. “Just take care of it.”

The judges also liked that it had only one operator. 

Both the other teams required two controllers, one for the vehicle and the other for the device moving the supposed waste. 

One used magnets, while another used a claw to pick up fictitious waste.

The magnet team, or DEADS, stressed the other machines had the potential to knock over the hazardous waste. 

Meanwhile, the P-Cot claw team argued its vehicle, named Lone Ranger, could push the waste in the “impossible” event the claw broke.

“We basically have two ways to get the poison there,” noted P-Cot’s Lakyn Moore. “Everyone else has one way.”

The three teams were judged by a five-member panel that included Greene; Sandra Rhodes, employee concerns manager at URS-CH2M Oak Ridge, otherwise known as UCOR; Mary Erwin, UCOR controller; Scott Anderson, UCOR waste disposition manager; and Kurt Greene, human resources director at Alstom. 

UCOR provided the grant money that helped make the program possible. 

Teams previously did time trials to determine the fastest and most efficient vehicle. Cost, speed and the students’ PowerPoint presentation and interaction with the panel all played a role in which vehicle was chosen.

Members of the ERIS team are Bacon, Coley, Keagan Davis, Isaac Galyon and Michael Leach.

Claw team, P-Cot, members include Moore, Madeline Argue and Justin Humphrey.  

The magnet team, named DEADS, consisted of Dalton Carroll, Dawson Hall, Emma Hill and Sammie Jo Lands. Its robot’s name is Magnesium 9000.