Education

Atascadero student robotics team heads to world competition

Atascadero kids made a robot that can throw balls, hang from walls

Members of the Atascadero Greybots — the robotics team at Atascadero High School — and their mentors demonstrate the abilities of their robot, Avalanche, as they prepare to head to the FIRST Robotics world championships in St. Louis.
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Members of the Atascadero Greybots — the robotics team at Atascadero High School — and their mentors demonstrate the abilities of their robot, Avalanche, as they prepare to head to the FIRST Robotics world championships in St. Louis.

It may not be easy to teach a machine a new trick, but the Greybots team in Atascadero has designed a robot with adept motor skills that’s capable of throwing foam balls through the doors of a play castle and navigating obstacles.

The 19-student Greybots team (the name is a playful nod to Atascadero High School’s Greyhounds mascot) will travel this week to St. Louis to compete in a world championship robotics event hosted by the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) organization. The competition will be Wednesday through Saturday.

FIRST is a not-for-profit founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s imaginations and participation in science and technology.

“Computer technology is such a big part of our existence,” said Jan Price, a coordinator of the program. “These students are learning valuable skills by creating these robots, as well as getting to meet and compete against teams from all over the world. In their regional competition, four teams came from China.”

Watch the Atascadero Greybots' robot take on competitors at the Ventura regional for the FIRST Robotics competition in March 2016. The Atascadero High School team will go to the St. Louis world championship held April 27-30.

The Greybots club, an independent program based at Atascadero High, was founded in 2002. This year’s team consists of 15 students from Atascadero High School, two from San Luis Obispo High School, one from the San Luis Obispo Classical Academy and one from Santa Lucia Middle School.

The team members received their competition instructions in January and had six weeks to design their machine, which stands about 5 feet tall and weighs 130 pounds. It’s made mostly of aluminum.

Their robot acts like a giant bug with the capability of picking up round objects, storing them as it maneuvers, and tossing them. The device can travel up to 15 mph and was constructed using a flywheel, conveyor belts and rubber tires.

The bot has the ability to move autonomously, which it’s required to demonstrate for about 15 seconds. Then the team’s radio controllers navigate its movements during the competition.

These students are learning valuable skills by creating these robots, as well as getting to meet and compete against teams from all over the world.

Jan Price, Greybots coordinator

The task for the students was to navigate a medieval course of drawbridges, moats and uneven terrain, moving in all directions to accomplish their goals of flinging foam balls into the doors and windows of toy castles.

A video shared with The Tribune shows a mad scrum for loose foam balls in the confined competition field and fans cheering as they race around the competition stage.

The club recently qualified for the world championship by performing well at a Ventura regional competition of 42 teams, three of which are moving on. The other two were the Beach Bots from Hermosa Beach and the Circuit of Life from Ventura. Arroyo Grande High School’s Eagle Robotics team also participated but didn’t qualify for the world championship.

“This was a huge challenge for all of us,” said Greybots team member Leila Silver, a freshman at San Luis Obispo High. “It was a more complex scheme than in years past. Cal Poly students came to help us and offer their time. It has really helped me learn skills relating to machine and design.”

This was a huge challenge for all of us. It was a more complex scheme than in years past.

Leila Silver, Greybots student participant

The group receives coaching and mentoring from volunteers who include Cal Poly mechanical, electrical and computer science students. To compete, the squad also must raise about $20,000 to pay for registration costs, flights, lodging, shipping and other expenses. The group is continuing to raise money to cover its costs to go to St. Louis.

Silver said she hopes to one day become a roboticist with NASA, where land rovers are designed with capabilities of navigating the moon or planets. Silver added that it has been a great experience meeting people through the program and the regional championships. She said she is looking forward to the world competition.

“I’ve met so many great people who I never would have met without FIRST,” Silver said. “The whole experience of going to competition and meeting people who love what you love has been great. We were able to speak with the Chinese students in Ventura in English, but one member of our team speaks Mandarin. That was a big help for communicating.”

To donate

The Greybots team is seeking tax-deductible contributions to help support its program. Checks can be made out to “Atascadero Education Foundation” and sent to P.O. Box 642, Atascadero, CA 93422. Credit card donations can be made at www.greybots.com using the PayPal link.

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