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Posted 3/18/2016

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By Sara Corbett

The sounds of drilling, sawing, and kid’s chatter greet guests at West Ashley High School. These sounds can only mean one thing, success! That is exactly what the robotics team at West Ashley High School is after.

Since the team’s creation in 2013, there have been some growing pains, but this year they are better than ever.

“Our first year we came in dead last every time,” said Noah Combs, junior. “Last year we did a little better, but we’ve done exponentially better this year and gotten first place in almost all of our competitions.”

There are several reasons they have improved over the last few years, but the students credit their winnings to their new unique designs.

“We research different designs online and at the competitions all we see are robots that are total copies of what we saw online,” said Matthew Baumgardner, sophomore. “Here at West Ashley, we strive to be completely different and our robots are completely different. It has the holonomic base, which gives it eight-degrees of movement, and the piston injection, which gives it extra speed. People are always trying to copy ours. We even have to put a blanket over it at competitions.”

Creating and building these unique and winning machines is no easy feat. There are several steps and components before robots even get to the testing phase. It has to be designed, then built, then programmed and finally tested.

“We start with screws, nuts and bolts, pieces of metal, motors and sensors,” said Nicholas Holmes, robotics teacher and team coach. “They are as basic as possible. The entire robot is designed and built over the course of a couple of months. Programming takes an additional month. Then we test and redesign constantly to get the perfect robot.”

Once the robot is completed, it is time to take it to competitions. The objective of the competition is for the robots to gather balls that are spread throughout the field and shoot them in a net about 14 feet away. There is a high net and a low net, with the high net being worth more points. There are also orange balls on the field that are worth 10 points in the high net, which is double the green balls. The robotics team’s strategy is to collect all the orange balls and shoot them in the high net to maximize the amount of points they can win.

What does the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have to do with all this? Since promoting STEM is a priority for the Corps, mentoring the team was a natural fit for the District. One of the Charleston District’s mechanical technicians, Brad Ryczko, volunteered to help the robotics team take their robots to the next level in hopes of winning at the U.S. Open Robotics Championship in April.

“Brad has been an amazing asset for this program,” said Holmes. “He gets along with the kids very well and is a tremendously positive role model for my students.”

While Ryczko works on construction service contracts and is a member of the mechanical support team for the Corps and has a degree in mechanical engineering technology, he is no stranger to building robots and over time has learned a few tricks to building a winning robot.

“The first robot I ever built was in 2001 for a local battle bots match,” said Ryczko. “Our bot failed that round and caught fire on the field. I am confident that this won’t happen to WAHS at the championship.”

Thanks to Ryczko’s dedication and help to the team, the students think they have a good shot of winning at the championships.
“I believe we will win the championship,” said Combs. “Considering how we have placed locally against all the other teams. Our last competition was the closest, but even then we still scored 50 points more than them.”

The Charleston District will be rooting for the WAHS robotics team at the championship in April!