Friday, February 20th, 2009
By Janie Southard
Parkway robot rules
Students place 2nd in national 2009 STEM Challenge
  ROCKFORD - Three Parkway students went to Columbus, built their first robot together, and brought home a second-place trophy from the 2009 STEM Challenge, part of the National Robotics Challenge.
Seniors Tyler Garwood and Brandon Riley along with junior Corbin Hellwarth were certainly not considered shoo-ins to win anything. In fact, because Parkway is not a STEM school, the students could perhaps be called a dark-horse trio.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is an education coalition composed of professionals from 600-plus groups. The coalition awards grants to schools for engineering-based curriculum. Local STEM schools are Fort Recovery, St. Henry and New Bremen.
While the STEM school students have been working on robots since the beginning of the school year, Parkway teachers Curt Hamrick, Alan Post and Jason Henline rounded up the threesome in January.
"We got a small practice kit about two weeks before the competition but with snow days and delays, I'd say we only had a couple hours to work together," Garwood said.
None of the three had any experience with robots, so the Columbus competition was a trial by fire event.
At the competition in early February, all teams of three students received a basic kit of body frames and a selection of motors, wheels and other parts. They unpacked the kit for the basic robot and in six hours put together their main structure. The first couple designs were too heavy, Hellwarth said.
The final version was the largest in the competition, by about 11/2 times, Riley estimated. The robot is a tractor-looking vehicle with two long moveable arms and dualies, which were installed for ramp traction.
At one point the first-place robot from Medina raced over to tip the Parkway robot but couldn't get the job done because of the Rockford trio's design - the dualies, you recall.
The gist of the competition was to have your robot place foam cubes in a designated area. Because of its size and arms, the Parkway robot could put cubes into approved cylinders, which prevented any other robot from taking them. The winning team was the one with the most cubes stored.
Looking back, the Parkway guys agreed they'd use a different strategy. They would have gathered up more cubes in the corner and defended that position rather than taking the time to put the cubes in the cylinder. They'd also try a better arm design and a little better climbing ability. The ramp was a problem.
The guys talked about a few other should-have, could-have ideas that would have improved performance, but the facts are still the facts.
Their performance was impressive and they placed second in a competition where the odds were against them. They took their knowledge out of classroom memorization, which is what teachers hope for in students.
Even in view of all the science, technology, engineering and math, Riley summed up the experience in three words: "It was fun."
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