June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

3rd annual robotics event features 34 teams from Medina County

LAFAYETTE TWP. — Sparky, a tank-like robot with a rotating claw, rolled across the boxing ring to face Electrodude, a tri-wheel design with a double drill.

Lights flashing, they faced off in a sophisticated version of a Rock’em Sock’em Robots showdown in “The Battle of the Bots” as one of 34 team projects competing for top honors Saturday in the third annual Robofest at the Medina County University Center.

Shane Nelson, 11, left, acts as referee for “The Battle of the Bots” between Electrodude and Sparky, fighting robots managed by teammates Lucas King, 11, and Evan Kasulones, 11. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JUDY A. TOTTS)

Shane Nelson, 11, left, acts as referee for “The Battle of the Bots” between Electrodude and Sparky, fighting robots managed by teammates Lucas King, 11, and Evan Kasulones, 11. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JUDY A. TOTTS)

Students in grades four to eight participated in Exhibition, RoboFashion/Dance and “Block the Oil Spill” competitions at the event, one of three coordinated by Medina County Schools’ Education Service Center as part of the Medina County Robotics Network Project.

Lucas King, Shane Nelson and Evan Kasulones, members of the Electrons 2011 team from Granger Elementary School, came up with “The Battle of the Bots” concept after seeing sumo wrestling robots on YouTube.

On the other side of the exhibition competition room, it was a think-fast-on-your-feet moment for team members Eric Cochran, Brendan Shirley and Steven Powers, Wadsworth Middle School students, before the judges made their rounds.

“We had a change of plans, because our battery doesn’t work,” Eric said. “There was supposed to be a battle, but now we have to work something else out.”

All the robots are constructed of Lego components. Each team begins with a kit that allows them to learn the basics of construction and programming, but after that, there’s no limit to what they can dream up.

“Judges look at the creativity, application of math and science concepts, the quality of the presentation, the ‘wow’ factor, communication skills,” said Brenda Magier, Robofest director. “They see if the robot actually works.”

Local champs will move on to the regional competition at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich. Regional winners get a crack at the World Robofest competition, also held at Lawrence.

The Plasmanauts, better known as Dillon Kirkpatrick and Tom Gaeckle, both 11, spent some time fine-tuning their robot before the competition started.

“We’re here to have some fun,” Tom said as his robot chugged up a ramp and started digging through a deep pile of dried beans to find a blue ball. “We have to slow down the action so it doesn’t throw the beans all over the place.”

Gillian Hagen, 12, took first place for a 4-H robotics project at the county fair last year, an accomplishment that spurred her to continue in the Robotics Network with Caleb Haberny, Lauren Schwartz and Woody Funk, all from Highland Middle School. They designed their “Claw” robot to take trash to a compactor.

“We made a lot of changes, but in the end, it came together,” Caleb said. “It was a lot of trial and error, but we’ve come pretty far.”

Tuyet Pham, a Kent State University math professor who served as a RoboFashion/Dance judge, said the program helps students see what science and math are all about.

“It’s a wonderful way to motivate interest in science and math, a good way to attract students of all ages,” Pham said, nodding at the Lego robots going through their paces. “I was surprised and amazed by what they accomplished.”

Francis S. Martines, an educational consultant and representative of the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, said he was impressed not only by how the students applied math and science principles in problem solving, but by how they integrated timely world issues in their projects.

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“They are making connections with events like using the earthquake in Japan to explain how their robots can clear roads and cap an oil spill,” Martines said. “It’s a great perspective.”

“We couldn’t offer this event without the assistance we’ve received from MTD and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, and the University of Akron for hosting this,” Magier said. MTD Products Inc. and Martha Holden Jennings Foundation donated $10,000 and $10,928, respectively.

“The University of Akron (Medina County University Center) supplied the location, assistance staff and technology,” she said.

“We’re lucky to have the robotics program at school,” said Quinn McLaughlin, a student at Highland Middle School, who teamed with Mason Carriero, Austin Kizys and Jacob Scavuzzo to build a trash collecting and sorting robotics unit. “With all the school funding cuts, I worried that the robotics program would be cut. I was afraid it would be cut before I could join.”

“Robotics projects are never done,” Magier said with a smile. “The kids have worked hard, worked a lot of evenings and weekends, and they don’t get any extra credit for this. They did it all for this competition.”

Each student received a medal for competing, and division winners received trophies.

Contact Judy A. Totts at jatotts1701@gmail.com.