Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Community robotics team successful at first competition

by BIZ. Staff

NATCHITOCHES – A Natchitoches community robotics team mentored by engineering technology students at Northwestern State University participated in its first-ever competition, ranking 21st out of 60 teams and tying for the highest-ranked rookie team.  

The Bayou Regional Competition took place at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner March 21-23.

Currently in its first year, the team is made up of local high schoolers and is part of an international organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) that has 3,802 teams in 28 countries, according to Patrick Sprung, an industrial engineering technology major who took a lead in organizing the team.

“We are a community team, meaning that we have high school students from the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts and Natchitoches Central High School.  They are the youth competitors. The NSU Engineering Technology department provides build space for the team and our ET students and faculty are the mentors that help guide the youth members in the construction of the robot,” Sprung explained.

“This is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Sprung said.  “The high school students get to learn new concepts of engineering, technology, coding, 3D modeling and teamwork through working together and being guided by the NSU student mentors. The NSU mentors are also able to reinforce some of the concepts they’re learning in the classroom, machine tools, 3D modeling, programming, supervision, project management, etc., by teaching the high school students what they know.”

In its first competition, the team did amazingly well, Sprung said.

           “I am so proud of the team. Our final record for the 2019 Bayou Regional Competition was 5 wins-4 losses.  Our robot was also ranked first in the alternate group during the final qualifying matches,” Sprung said. “When teams would come to scout our robot, affectionately named Dante, they would always ask how many years we have been around; and then were astounded by what the students had built for rookies compared to other first-year teams. Many judges, friends, mentors, parents and passersby commented and expressed their excitement and astonishment at how well our team built Dante and was operating him.”

“Our college student and high school students all seemed to have a wonderful experience, meeting the other groups of industrious people all competing but in their own unique ways.  It’s almost indescribable unless you’ve been there and have an affinity for this sort of subject and competition.” 

Sprung participated in FRC (First Robotics Challenge) competition when he was in high school and proposed the idea to NSU classmates about starting a team.  In addition to filing paperwork and consolidating people and funds, he faced challenges in educating students about the FIRST organization and accommodating two different school systems.

During competition, a rocket repair simulation, Dante’s job was to pick up a hatch panel to patch a hole in the rocket ship. The team worked feverishly between matches to make modifications, Sprung said.

Competitions are usually held during the spring semester with the build season running Jan. 5-Feb. 19 leaving the team with six weeks to build a fully functional robot. In the wake of success at their first competition, the team hopes to build recognition and gain community support through sponsorships.

“We always need new mentors and youth members,” Sprung said.  “It’s only our first year, but the potential is there for this team to become a beacon for STEM education and make a major impact on our community. We hope to take our robot on a tour around our community at some point and show off what he can do, and hopefully get more students involved.”

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