Fixing the World’s Problems One Robot at a Time? CVHS Robotics Club takes classroom “what ifs” and discovers real world applications.

To see last year’s robot in action, click here for PODcast from April 1st, 2010.

For the official website of FIRST, click here to visit

By Brandon HENSLEY

Since what seems like the beginning of time, students in various math classes every year have raised their hands and asked their teacher, point blank, “What does this have to do with the real world?”
The answer for some still might be as hard to figure out as a calculus problem, but for CV High teacher Greg Neat, it’s pretty simple: Join the Robotics team and find out for yourself.
Neat’s Robotics team is gearing up for two regional competitions in San Diego and Los Angeles that will take place in March. It’s all part of the 20th annual nationwide Robotics competition presented by the organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
In Robotics, students take classroom material and apply it to real world scenarios. Neat likened it to warming up before playing a game.
“This is like the game,” he said. “You might choose algebra to figure out how make the robot go faster, but you’re playing the game. The robot is going to break; things aren’t going to work right. That’s reality.”
The game this year is called Logomotion, and is played in 27-by-54-foot field. Schools are partnered up with other schools, creating alliances. The robots will have to place tubes into what is essentially a tic-tac-toe board. Later they will employ a mini-robot that can climb up a pole.
Last Saturday, every school received the rules and their bucket of parts, but teaming together is advantageous because some schools might have parts others need.
Scoring is difficult to understand, even for Neat.
“They make the game really complicated,” he said.
The CV crew is an interesting cast of characters. Made up of traditional “bookworms,” it has increasingly been bucking the trend as something “nerdy.” Athletes, including football and water polo players, are joining the club, making it a real life science version of the cast of “Glee.”
“[We’re] trying to make Robotics more accepted in school,” said junior Aimee Yeghiayan. “We’re known as the geeks.”
Nick Ferraro, a senior, attends St. Francis but joined the team before his school had Robotics. Ferraro is in charge of the drive system, which includes wheels, gears and motors.
“Drive system has to be one of the first things done because without being able to move you really can’t function,” Ferraro explained.
The robots have codes put into them so they can function on their own, but they are also controlled by a joystick.
While it obviously takes a lot of math, students don’t have to be the best with numbers. Many help out in other ways, like Yeghiayan. She is part of the field team that includes making the bumpers for the robots.
“If you’re just not really great at math, you don’t do a lot of math. Maybe you do the fabrication,” said senior team captain Julian Shur, who has taken Advanced Physics and Calculus. “They’ll work with a mentor and build the field equipment, which is really necessary.”
Mentors include past CV alumni, and teachers like the popular Win Saw.
Helping also doesn’t just include field work. Others help plan the trips to regionals, which Neat noted has real-world application as well. After all, it takes six weeks designing the trip.
Money? That’s another big issue. Entry fees for both competitions this year are around $5,000. It takes another $2,000 to build the robot. Fortunately, the school received money from JPL and from private donations, according to Neat.
All that money doesn’t translate into winning, though. Neat said there are no rules to who actually build the robots. “The robots that win are usually ones that are built by adults, and that’s okay but we can’t compete against that,” he said.
Neat’s goals each year aren’t to win. “The goal of this is to inspire kids so they’ll go solve the world’s problems,” he said.
In the meantime, while they’re still just kids, CV Robotics is a source of inspiration.
“Because of this I’m applying to colleges as an engineer because this is something that I really enjoy doing,” said Ferraro.
It’s helping kids come out of a shell and into a promising future.
“I pretty much sat home and did normal stuff in middle school and then I came here and I started doing this and it’s something you can go, ‘Wow I love creating things and figuring out how things work and doing all this engineering stuff,’” said Shur.
And, it’s bringing students together.
“I think having different groups join Robotics is really important to us,” Yeghiayan said, “having the football players and the water polo kids and all the different social groups join together in Robotics to become one big cluster of high school.”