Banks – The large box-like robot whirs across the cafeteria stage, ‘3525’ prominently displayed on the side, lit with a blue glow. It approaches a target made out of colorful plastic pipes.
The robot freezes.
No one is controlling it; for 30 seconds, this machine will act without any real-time input, relying instead on carefully programmed instructions, written in Java.
Moments pass, then two plastic balls are jettisoned from the top of the robot. They both hit the target before falling to the ground, unheeded by the robot as it scoots by and stops in the corner. The 30 seconds is up, and the robot awaits commands from its creators.
The robot’s creators are all hard at work, practicing, coding, assembling parts, and designing pieces. Two students, Zach Weir, 11th grade, and Max Jurgensen, 10th grade, watch the robot’s progress.
The Banks Robotics Club meets twice a week on Saturday and Sunday, drawing students from Banks Middle School and Banks High School.
They meet on the weekends to avoid scheduling conflicts with more traditional sports, according to the team’s volunteer mentor, Sid Young. Now in its second year of operation, the Banks robotics club is a volunteer run and funded program. Young ran a private robotics team out of his living room for 5 years before launching the school club, and by the accounts of the club members, he and four other volunteer adult mentors are doing a good job. “The leadership is great.” said Mitch Morton, an 11th grade student at Banks High School.
Currently, the team meets an extra day each week to prepare for an international competition hosted in Houston, Texas that runs from April 18-22. Making it to the competition was unexpected; the team didn’t advance at the last regional match they were at. But a lottery pick sent the team scrambling with three weeks to prepare for the event, which draws teams from more than 50 countries.
In the course of preparing for this competition and for other matches, students learn traditional skills you would expect from any school sport – teamwork, perseverance, and confidence. Those skills are supplemented with learning how to code, machine parts for their robot, keep an engineering notebook, design and print 3D materials, and assemble electronics.
“They start with a box of parts.” says Young.
The club members then use their newfound and developing engineering and programming skills to bring that box of parts to life.
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