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Cole High School robotics team preparing for state contest

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | March 12, 2018

SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

Three Cole High School students have earned a spot in the state robotics contest after their robotics project was judged the best in an area contest in January.

The Cole robotics team of Henry Yowell, Mitchell Hafer and Aydin Chewning won first place in the advanced level at the Texas Computer Educators Association, or TCEA, area robotics contest at Alamo Heights Junior School Jan. 20.

Nine schools competed in the advanced level at the area contest with the top two, including Cole, advancing to the TCEA State Robotics Challenge Contest April 7 at Hutto High School, near Austin.

Yowell, the robotics team captain, said he felt good about the team’s chances of winning the area contest after the solid performance put in by the robot they worked on.

“I felt pretty confident we would get to state and I was happy we got first,” Yowell said.

Yowell and Hafer, who are both seniors, have been working on their robot, a Lego brand robotics platform rover, since the start of school in the fall. Chewning, a freshman, joined the robotics team late in the first semester of school after winning a robotics classroom competition. He serves as the team manager, assisting Yowell and Hafer with some programming tasks for the robot.

The TCEA competition is based on the theme of “Mastering Mars,” in which the students utilize the robot on a board representing the surface of Mars to prepare the planet for human settlement. The robot designed and built by the students includes four different motors to move the robot and an arm that is attached to it.

In the competition, the robot must pick up objects on the board, including Lego bricks, cotton balls, checkers and bring them to the base station that is the site for the human settlement. Each of the objects represent a certain part of the Martian surface: bricks for lava tubes, which contain frozen water; cotton balls for water vapor; and checkers for soil samples. Blocks that represent alien life forms must be placed by the robot in an adjoining board, which is used by an opposing robotics team.

The robot also has a color sensor that differentiates between red and black checkers. Red is for radioactive soil, which the robot is supposed to not pickup, and black is for nonradioactive soil, which it’s supposed to bring to the base station for research.

Competition is divided into three rounds, each lasting two minutes, and is based on a scoring system used by judges to determine how well the robotic rover performs its tasks.

The students operate the robot using a program they can download to the robot’s central processing unit to do the required tasks. The robot’s program is coded using software called Lego Mindstorms, which comes with the kits used to build the robots and for students in the robotics classes at Cole.

Hafer, who participated in his first ever robotics competition at the area contest in January, said working, designing and developing the robot has been an evolving process.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how this robot has dramatically changed since its original conception,” he said.

Yowell, who has been participating in robotics competitions for two years, said the Cole robotics team is utilizing the same robot that was used in last year’s competitions. He said modifications were made to the robot to meet this year’s TCEA competition requirements.

“Last year was a different challenge,” Yowell said. “This year I had to think of a new thing for the robot.”

Those modifications included solving problems such as how to move a radio tower, attached to the robot, up and down. According to competition rules, the tower has to be less than 12 inches when it is down, but more than 12 inches when it is used and raised up.

To solve that problem, a rubber band was placed on the robot to control the upward movement of the tower.

Since the robot must complete tasks in a certain amount of time during the competition, Hafer said he and Yowell have developed a robot that can perform tasks quickly and efficiently.

“I think the most important thing we had to keep in mind when designing our robot was the best way to score points,” Hafer said. “It wasn’t just a matter of what gets us the most points, but what we can do most reliably and usually in rapid succession, which is why the way we have the robot organized it moves in a certain path and completes certain objectives in a certain pattern.”

Yowell and Hafer gave their reasons as to why they like working, building and developing robots for competition.

“I just like creating and building something and see if it works,” Yowell said.

“I just like engineering in general, so getting to build part of this and programming it is something I find to be a lot of fun,” Hafer said.

Gina Hanna, Cole robotics teacher and team sponsor, said all three members of the robotics team have dedicated many hours working on and preparing the robot for competition.

“They have worked together for months through trials and tribulations of building and programming these imperfect and at times unpredictable robots,” Hanna said. “They worked on the project during their respective class periods, as well as before and after school and several lunch periods. Their final robot is meticulously designed and programmed to accomplish the mission for the ‘Mastering Mars’ contest.”

Cole sent a robotics team to last year’s TCEA state contest, finishing ninth out of 60 schools. Yowell was a member of that team.

Hanna said the goal of the robotics team at state is to improve on last year’s finish.

“This team has earned their first place status and their spot in the state contest and I know they will do well, learn a lot and represent Cole High School beautifully,” she said.