Press Citizen: Iowa City Robotics Club Working against the Clock

Friday, February 18, 2011

Iowa City Press Citizen
by Rob Daniel

The robot is supposed to be able to reach out and pick up different-shaped inner tubes and place them on plastic pegs.

At least, it will when the students of the Iowa City Robotics Club finish with it.

The club, comprised of City High and West High students, have spent the last four weeks constructing a robot to do those tasks for the First Robotics Competition. They will compete in the competition’s regional contest March 9-12 in Milwaukee and then the national contest in late April in St. Louis, said Kay Nigg, a West High math teacher and a faculty adviser for the team.

“They design a robot, they build a robot,” she said. “We only have six weeks to do it.”

The club’s robot was nearly complete Thursday night as the students began working on it again at City High. Nigg said the robot must be built using a combination of skills in engineering, electronics, mechanics and computer programming.

“Nobody’s really an expert,” Nigg said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to build on an idea.”

Among those building on the idea was Lydia Somers. A West High senior who is serving as the robotics club’s president this year, she said she was in charge of bringing together the various aspects of the team to ensure the robot did what it is supposed to do.

She said she was confident about doing well in Milwaukee but was unsure where they would finish.

“You know what the game will be, but you don’t know how it will turn out until you get there,” Somers, 17, said. “It’s putting in the time to get it done.”

City High sophomore Doron Tsachor, 15, is overseeing the wiring of the robot. He said it is a detailed-oriented task that needs to be precise to ensure the motors correspond with computer programming.

“The electronics is the most fragile part of the robot and the most expensive,” he said, adding he has not been working with a wiring diagram as he has in the past. “If you make a mistake, you could fry the robot. It’s all been very exciting.”

West High sophomore Asya Bergal, 15, has been working as the head programmer. She said she has enjoyed her time in working on the robot, ensuring that it responds to what the students want it to do. That includes making sure the robot is able to complete the task on its own for the first 15 seconds before a student can take over the controls, according to the rules.

“It’s the closest you can get to a real world engineering experience in high school,” she said.