Hillman will travel to TC for robotics competition

HILLMAN – The Hillman High School robotics program will be traveling to Traverse City March 21-22 to enter their robot into the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics District Competition qualifying event. Students in the program have been working on the robot since January, and started out with just a few supports, a chasis, some electronic pieces and a laptop.

“We did a lot of brainstorming ideas with the design,” Bradley Walsh said. “The chasis and arm support were all trial and error.”

The group ran into a problem almost immediately with the robot when they realized the program on the laptop they were given was the wrong version to be compatible with the hardware they were using.

“The laptop they sent us had the wrong version of windows installed,” Wyatt Libby said. “It was completely wrong. We couldn’t use it at all. I had to go in and reimage it.”

At the upcoming competition, the robot must also have a preprogrammed set of commands it must follow as part of earning points. These commands have to be autonomous, and cannot have the help of a driver.

“Autonomous means you have to allow it to control itself with a preprogrammed cycle of events,” Libby said. “There’s no driver. You just have to leave it alone. Autonomous is enabled and it goes. There are higher point values in the autonomous portion.”

During the rest of the competition the robot is operated by one or more drivers and has to throw and catch a ball. The robot also has to be able to move fluidly to keep possession of that ball.

Most of the preparation for the competition will include gathering spare parts, figuring out what may need fixing or replacement and getting tools together. Once the team arrives it needs to set up a wireless communication with the robot through their Internet connection on the field to transmit the data commands to the machine. Each group plays with two other groups to form a team of three robots to try and score points to win matches.

Libby said the lifting motor on the arm was probably the biggest challenge in the build.

“The chain we had on the motor would slip because our robot had a lot of torque,” Libby said. “We had to step up to a No. 35 chain, which is like a go-kart motor chain. Then we had to have a new gear box, new motors to drive the gear box, figure out a new sprocket, we had to add the prop, two new motors, a new mounting system, three new sprockets and two new lengths of chain to get our arm to properly lift.”

The program has a small budget, but was mostly possible through sponsors who donated materials and funds to help build the robot.

“A good amount of the aluminum was provided by Moran Iron Works, and we had CarQuest and Bernards were amazing for sponsoring us too,” Libby said. “MC Customs helped us with a lot of our welding and helped our coach learn how to tack weld. There were a lot of sponsors that helped us out.”

There are 17 students in the program, and it has provided an extra opportunity for students who aren’t involved in sports or many extracurricular activities to explore a different talent.

“I think this program pushes kids that aren’t in other school activities to really think differently,” Libby said. “All you have to do is apply yourself. It’s a lot of work, but the teachers and our coach have been great at letting us work on the robot and are supportive.”

Coach Iain Cook said the program got off to a slow start because it is a rookie team, but they have been making a lot of gains since things got rolling.

“We had a lot of students that had never done any type of fabrication at all, and now they are getting comfortable with the materials and the problem solving involved in building the robot,” Cook said. “They have done most everything on their own, and I’m proud of that. I think for a rookie team, they’ve worked really hard and it shows.”