RCBI Assists Students With Robotic Projects
Dozens of West Virginia middle school and high school students are busily designing, building and programming robots to perform complex tasks, and mentors and sponsors such as the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) are assisting them.
The West Virginia students are taking part in the FIRST robotics competition (the letters in its name stand for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The competition, the brainchild of Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway personal transportation device, began in 1992 in a New Hampshire gym with a handful of students involved. Since then, FIRST has mushroomed into a worldwide affair with thousands of student teams.
In West Virginia, the competition has been fostered by Dr. Earl Scime, the chairman of the Physics Department at West Virginia University and co-founder of Mountaineer Area Robotics -- MARS for short.
“Several years ago,” Scime explained, “a couple of us here in Physics started a middle school robotics team, for just a handful of kids. As those kids got older, and moved into high school they wanted to have a high school robotics team." The resulting MARS team has competed all over the East Coast, with youngsters from Monongalia, Marion and Preston counties taking part.
Scime noted that when construction temporarily closed the West Virginia University shop the students were using, RCBI stepped into the breach and helped with Engineering design, CAD modeling and machining components. Scime described RCBI’s help as “really fantastic.”
Tom Minnich, Director of Business & Project Development at RCBI, oversaw that assistance. “What MARS is doing is truly exciting and educational,” Minnich said, “and we at RCBI are pleased and proud to be able to lend a hand with the work.”
The robotic projects reinforce the students’ interests in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- the key disciplines that will help propel the next generation of economic prosperity.
“By instilling a blend of fun and creative problem-solving we can encourage these young students and point them toward Engineering and other high tech fields that lead to rewarding careers that continue to be in high demand -- toolmakers, programmers, CNC machinists, design engineers and even the high-tech maintenance workers who are necessary to keep the processes running smoothly,” said Charlotte Weber, Director & CEO of RCBI.
In 2010, Taylor Shank, then a senior at Winfield High School, attended a MARS event and returned home to urge creation of a similar team at his school. Teacher Denise Johnson agreed to serve as sponsor and the RoboGens team was born. Winfield High is the home of the Generals, and so the team’s original name was chosen as a tribute to the school. Since then the team has expanded to include students from Hurricane and Poca as well, and its name has changed to PART – the Putnam Area Robotics Team – to reflect that expansion.
Both the MARS and Putnam County teams will take part in the 2012 FIRST Regional Competition in Pittsburgh March 7-10.
Scime and the members of the MARS team played a major role in aiding formation of the Putnam County team as did Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, which uses numerous robots at its engine and transmission plants at Buffalo. Several Toyota employees are also helping mentor the Putnam students.
RCBI Production Engineer Chris Figgatt, who has worked closely with the Putnam team, described it as “an extremely fun and rewarding experience to be involved with. The goal is to encourage students to gain an interest and appreciation, not just for robotics, but for science and technology in general.”