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photoMy son is the co-founder and co-captain of the Robotics Club at Liberty High School.  They entered the VEX Robotics Competition held in Pittsburgh, March 18, 2014 and came in FIRST PLACE.  So proud of him!

Last week, the Liberty High School Robotics Team traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a VEX Robotics Competition at Ambridge High School. We took three days off of school, and these three days proved worthy when we became “Tournament Champions!” We came back home with two trophies, impressing family members and the community. I had no idea that our team would grow and become this successful at its inception. It simply started as an idea.

Last spring (Grade 9), my friend Izzy mentioned that at her grandfather’s school, they had a robotics team and that Liberty should have one too. I was immediately intrigued, but I had no experience with robotics. As the year went on, the team was simply an idea that we shared and proposed to multiple science teachers.

At the beginning of this school year (Grade 10), Mr. Hoffman, one of the physics teachers agreed to advise our club. Izzy, Mr. Hoffman and I began meeting every week in preparation for the team. We scrambled to find competitions that we could participate in. Our two initial ideas did not work due to the time constraint and a lack of funding, but we eventually settled with the VEX robotics competition as they offered us a $1,200 grant!

We advertised the club at various events and ended up with roughly 10 members. Each individual member had a fervent interest for robotics — but none of us had any valuable experience in robotics. Thus, we decided to build a demo-robot provided to us in the grant. VEX provided us a robot kit in which Lego-like instructions were given to construct a “Claw-bot”. We made this robot in a week and learned a lot of the fundamentals of physics, math and engineering.


Robot in progress

I began sketching various designs for our robot and brought them up in our next meeting. Other members began contributing ideas and we soon had an idea of what we wanted our robot to look like and what we wanted it to do. Our design took various components from the Claw-bot and scaled them larger and improved upon them. Our design also included new ideas that made our robot very unique (as seen from later competitions).

The design process was finished and building the robot began right away. For the first month and half we worked on the robot extensively– spending 6-8 hours a week.  Our entire process was documented in our engineering notebook as well as our twitter page.

Like many clubs/teams there were many complications and hurdles that we experienced. These problems really tested my own leadership skills as the co-founder and Captain of the Robotics Club. With the Christmas holidays approaching we began to experience complications with some of the members and their lack of time commitment due to school work and family obligations. In order to finish the robot in time, Izzy and I had to begin enforcing mandatory workdays at least twice a week to finish the robot.robot theo

Like many creations, our robot did not perform exactly how we had designed it. We initially wanted the arm to fling the balls (game pieces), but the arm did not have enough torque to fling the objects. We were forced to work quickly on our feet so we brainstormed and came up with an idea.

We were also in need of funding for our project. The lack of funds proved to be one of the biggest obstacles, as we needed to purchase various parts to continue our work. Money was also needed to build a field in order to practice for the competitions. We asked our high school for a grant and we were in luck. They provided us with $500 in order for us to build the field. The school also provided us with a laptop in order to program the robot using a version of Robot C.

With our robot finished, we met up with Lehigh University’s Robotics’ graduate students and professor to discuss our robot. They gave us some advice and provided some guidance as to how we could improve the robot.

20140128_164748We went to our first competition at The Haverford School in Philadelphia. We made it to the semi-finals and placed 15th out of 32 teams. A judge at the competition invited our team to the State Competition. At the State Competition, we placed 29th out of 51 teams, missing the quarter-finals by just five places. Then just last week we competed in Pittsburgh for a Regional Competition. We won First Place and also received an Excellence Award.

This was our last competition so we are now leaving the robot as is until the new competition game date is released in April/May 2014.

Currently we are presenting our robotics club journey to the three middle schools that feed into Liberty High School in hopes to encourage the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) program. We hope to present at other schools as well, and are helping out North East Middle School to start a robotics club. We are continuing to meet with Lehigh University and hope to build a stronger connection for next year.

Throughrobot this journey, I have learned an incredible amount of leadership and engineering skills. Co-finding this robotics club with Izzy has really increased my interest in engineering and more specifically in robotics. All the members of the team are truly dedicated to robotics and we share a similar passion. As a team we hope to improve our robot significantly in the new academic year. I am excited for what this team has to offer and hope for the best!  In preparation for next year’s team we are starting up a Kick-Starter web page in order to raise money.  More details to follow.  Stay tuned!


Watch the YouTube clip of the robot.

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theo profileTheo Andrew is a sophomore at Liberty High School and is the Vice President of class 2016. He is on the soccer team, track team and in several clubs at his High School.  He is co-founder and co-captain of the “Robotics Club” at Liberty.  He enjoys playing the piano and plays the keyboard in his church band.