Team finishing soccer ‘bot

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, February 11, 2010

It can play on a team, move down a soccer field or kick a soccer ball, just like any soccer player. But this competitor is not likely to be upset over a missed goal.

This soccer player is the robotic creation of the Nansemond River High School robotics team, which has spent the past five weeks designing and building its entry into the 2010 FIRST Robotics competition.

“We lost some time because of the snow, but we’ve been picking it up, and things have been moving along quite well,” said Dawn Rountree, team advisor. “We’re just putting the finishing touches on it this week.”

The team at Nansemond River is participating in its first FIRST Robotics Competition, which is in its 19th year and has 45,000 high school students participating worldwide. State champions advance to a world tournament to compete with students from all over the world.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

The students had only six weeks to design a soccer-playing robot, taking into account several variants, such as the layout of the field and the movement of the soccer ball. While it does not include every feature the students hoped for, due to budget constraints, they are confident they have built a sturdy robot capable of holding its own on the soccer field.

“We’ve changed some plans from our earlier designs, but we’re confident about our design,” Rountree said. “The students didn’t go for all the bells and whistles, but they’re excited for what they’ve put together.”

During the past few weeks, Rountree said, it has been amazing to watch the dedication, time and effort the students have put forth. The students work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and after their classes to get the job done.

“The kids come in early and stay late,” Rountree said. “They’re here and working. They always do what they can.”

The effort the students are putting in will not only help their robot on the field, but also has been fundamental in helping them apply years of knowledge and teamwork skills. For some students, it has even helped their grades.

“It has been so neat to watch every student grow,” Rountree said. “They’re also starting to put together their knowledge with real-world application.”

There are also tangible benefits, however.

“Some students didn’t know a nut from a bolt when they started,” Rountree said. “Everything they’re learning in the class will help them — whether it’s fixing things around the house, going to an engineering program or being a team player.”

There also have been challenges.

“Being new and getting people to understand who we are was something we got over pretty quick,” Rountree said. “Funding and having money will always be an issue, and learning the basics was difficult.”

The support the team has received from school administration and its mentors from Mills Godwin High School in Henrico, Boeing and Christopher Newport University have been instrumental in guiding the team to success.

“They’ve given us knowledge we didn’t have before,” Rountree said. “The students are really learning to work with people who are knowledgeable, listen and take things in.”

While the process has been a whirlwind of excitement and constant advancements — with a few wrenches thrown into the mix — the students have persevered and will ship their robot to Richmond next weekend to be inspected for the March 17 state tournament.

“It was hard at first, but they’re developing and becoming better young adults all around,” Rountree said. “It’s a really neat experience.”