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PV High School hosts fighting robots tournament

by on November 14, 2019 1:26 PM

SPRING MILLS — The popular “BattleBots” television show features mechanized robots fighting it out inside a metal and plexiglass arena.

Folks in Penns Valley got a taste of that kind of action on Nov. 9 as 14 teams of students from high schools around the state gathered for a “Rage in the Cage” tournament of mechanized combat at Penns Valley High School.

Competition was held in two categories: rookie and veteran.

The veteran class robots were equipped with rotating metal bars or teeth on the front, making them rolling buzz saws. When the rotors collided, sparks flew and the robots, or parts of them, often went airborne, sometimes bouncing off the walls of the competition cage, delighting the crowd of about 100 spec-tators.

The rookie bracket robots were a bit less forceful, lacking any rotating weapons, and instead, relying on their wedge shape design to flip an opponent’s robot on its back, disabling it like a distressed turtle.

All the robots were radio-controlled with transmitters like those used on radio controlled model planes and cars.

The bouts were held in an octagonal cage framed with metal tubing and its walls covered with high-impact acrylic plastic sheets to protect participants and spectators from flying debris. And there was plenty of debris, as nearly every collision broke or dislodged parts from the robots, bringing volunteer helpers into the cage with a push broom to sweep up the debris after each battle.

The competition was held under the auspices of the National Robotics League, which is a robotic program designed to introduce students to the processes of engineering and manufacturing. This was Penns Valley’s second year of involvement in the National Robotics League.

Bloomsburg Area High School established the Central Pennsylvania Region of the National Robotics League and has been hosting events for the past eight years with the arena the school built with the financial support of the Alcoa Foundation and the Kawneer Company.

Event administrator Kirk Marshall ran each robot through a long checklist of electrical and mechanical safety points, and certified they were under the 15 pound weight limit before they were allowed to battle. The teams were given 20 minutes to repair damaged robots between battles. A “pit row” was established in a nearby hallway where the teams made repairs and fine-tuned their machines for battle.

“You have to be able to make repairs quickly,” said Marshall.

To begin each battle, Marshall counted down “3, 2, 1, fight, robots fight.” The robots charged out of their corners at full speed, often colliding head-on, lofting one of them upward, sometimes shedding parts in mid-air. If a robot became disabled, it was given 10 seconds to show some movement or its opponent wins by “knockout.” Several knockouts were seen, due to extreme damage or smoked battery packs.

Marshall noted that the students apply the disciplines of mathematics, physics, science, engineering and technology to their designs. They work in teams, usually of four students, which allow each student to apply his/her abilities to create the best possible robot with both offensive and defensive capabilities.

On its website, the National Robotics League states there is a skills and interest gap in manufacturing. Companies cannot find qualified workers to fill open positions, and the problem is compounded by a rapidly aging workforce.

They point out that 40 percent of the manufacturing workforce will reach retirement age by 2020, and 77 percent by the year 2030, leaving two million positions in manufacturing open within the next 10 years.

The National Robotics League attracts smart, capable students who love to build things and solve problems; exactly the type of people needed to make up the next generation of manufacturing leaders.


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