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All systems go

Robotics team advances to state championships

The MAC is packed with hundreds of parents and spectators as the robotics teams rush all around, prepping their robots for the next match. Among the teams are the Chuckleheads, getting robot 19991 ready for the next round. 

For the spectators, today is a showcase of the ingenuity of their school’s robotics team. For the Chuckleheads, today is filled with anticipation as they fight against 39 other

The Chuckleheads pilot their robot at the regional competition in the MAC on Feb 25. Photo Bianca Mahendran

teams for a spot in the next competition. They were the only one of three robotics teams to make it to regionals. If they can rise above, they will be going to Houston for the state championships.

This year, the robots have a simple objective: placing cones on top of poles. The taller the pole, the more points the cone is worth. The team that ends with the most points will take home the gold.

Though the task looks simple, every intricate movement is the culmination of months of programming, CAD modeling and reattempt after reattempt. Today, in front of everyone in the stands, the Chuckleheads will find out if their hard work has paid off.

The team watches from the sidelines in anticipation as the timer for the next match ticks down to zero. For the first thirty seconds, 19991 will be without a pilot, relying entirely on its pre-programmed knowledge and sensors. How the next thirty seconds will go could mean the difference between going to state or ending the year at regionals.

As the match begins, the wheels start spinning as the mechanical arm reaches for the nearest cone. 19991 is ready to byte.

***

In 2019, L101 was the Agriculture classroom, where students would grow different types of plants. After the program, the building was mostly used as a storage area. When Robotics teacher Casey McCluskey arrived at the school, he was tasked with turning the building into a robotics classroom. This would prove difficult; as the building hadn’t been used in months.

“The back of the building had welding booths, heavy equipment and a whole lot of junk,” McCluskey said. “The floors were concrete, the lighting was questionable, it had no sound system and the networking wasn’t there.”

A lot of us came in here having zero experience, just an interest in engineering. Working with your team is pretty great.

— Ashish Biju Nair, 11

With the help of Principal Skelton and LISD facilities, McCluskey turned L101 into his ideal classroom. By the end of the summer of 2021, the building was equipped with an advanced sound system, a powerful AC unit and 28 of the most powerful computers in the district. With the building split into two halves, the front half was dedicated to the classwork. The back half, McCluskey had an idea for.

“When I first came in here, I kind of knew what I thought we should do with it,” McCluskey said. “People have gotten on board with that idea, which is to basically build an arena. The Roboplex is what we call the back half of the building, it’s an arena for robots. It’s the only one of its kind in all of North Texas.”

With the Roboplex up and running, the Robotics class opened up for the 2021-2022 school year. In the class, students learn how to program in Java, CAD model, 3D print and much more. 

With a room full of 3D printers, boxes full of spare parts and multiple practice arenas, students have invaluable resources at hand to build their robots. Though the high-tech equipment can be daunting at first, students get to learn everything they need to know to build their robots.

“A lot of us came in here having zero experience, just an interest in engineering,” junior Ashish Biju Nair said. “Working with your team is pretty great.”

Sophomore Finnian Shannahan prepares robot 19991 for the next round of the regional competition. Photo Bianca Mahendran

For individual work, students learn the basic concepts of engineering. For group work, students team up into groups of four to build a robot together and compete against the other teams. The class’ robots are task-oriented, meaning they’re built with a specific problem in mind. 

“You look at the task the robot has to accomplish, and form usually follows function,” McCluskey said. “They get to build whatever robot they’d like to try to best accomplish the task. So we give them the problem, and they have to figure out how to solve the problem. So there is no one right answer.”

While building their robots, students get to learn engineering methodology. Between the mechanical, electrical and software aspects, students learn skills that could prove useful in any engineering career.

“Engineering goes into a lot of different fields, not just like robotics, it’s pretty much everything,” McCluskey said. “You could take robotics here, and you could come out and decide programming was really your thing. You could go and become a software engineer and never touch a robot again.”

The robotics class can prepare students for an engineering career, as well as earning an engineering degree. With McCluskey’s wall of scholarships, students can find support in paying for their tuition.

“There’s $80 million on my wall,” McCluskey said. “You just basically pick out the school, and the wall will tell you what their scholarship is, it’s that straightforward.”

As the students prepare for life after high school, they also prepare for the upcoming state competition. With the upcoming state championship in Houston, the robotics team is ready to take on the challenge.

“This is our second year,” McCluskey said. “There’s maturity to do. Some teams have almost a decade of maturity on us, but we’re getting there.”

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About the Contributor
Garrison Acree, Entertainment Editor
Garrison Acree (he/him) is on his second year on staff as a junior. When he’s not banging his head against his keyboard trying to work out the bug in a website’s code or trying to use JavaScript, he’s using writing as an outlet for creation and for spreading God’s word. He hopes to branch out from writing a little and support the staff in the design and photography departments. The attitudes of women and fish towards him are too varied and complex to be accurately described in a bio.  

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