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Really radical about robots



Published: Sat, September 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The demonstrations are held each evening in the fair's technology center.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CANFIELD -- Spyke weighs just 80 pounds, but he's managed to make a big impact on a group of teens from Morristown, Ind., near Indianapolis.

"They get attached to this robot," said Libby Ritchie, a business teacher and school to work coordinator at Morristown High School. Ritchie helps manage the team.

Spyke was built by the Full Metal Jackets, a team of Morristown High School students who are taking part in a national robotics competition. The Full Metal Jackets brought Spyke to the Canfield Fair on Friday to take part in robotics demonstrations at the technology center.

Showing off: The demonstrations are held each evening of the fair and feature four robots working to balance two tall hoops on a teetering platform. In addition, some of the robots are able to throw large rubber balls through the hoops.

Spyke is a silver robot 36 inches wide and 30 inches long that is operated by remote control. It has grabbing devices on its front and back so it can tow the hoops to the platform.

Several fairgoers stopped and watched from behind a railing as Spyke towed a hoop onto the platform during a recent practice session. After several attempts, the robot was able to balance the hoop on the platform.

Other schools: Each of the robots in the demonstrations was built by a team of high school students. Participating high schools include Chaney, Girard, Morristown and three schools from Pennsylvania.

The Full Metal Jackets built Spyke using the parts supplied for the FIRST Robotics Competition, a national contest that introduces high school students to professional engineers and scientists.

Ritchie said the students have taken to using the pronoun he when talking about Spyke, and they often ask to take the robot home.

Stephanie Branch, 17, a senior at Morristown and a team member, said the team has put much of their free time since January into constructing and maintaining Spyke.

"There's a lot of commitment involved, and a lot of people don't want to get involved with that type of commitment," she said.

Applications: About 50 students applied to be members of the Full Metal Jackets last year, Ritchie said. Each applicant participated in an interview with a board of engineers and technicians. The companies that employ those engineers and technicians also help sponsor the team.

Most of the team members, such as Tony Abrams, 18, want to work with technology or electronics. Abrams said he wants to work as a technology teacher after graduating college.

Ritchie said that many of the students are given job and internship opportunities with the companies that sponsor the team. Jesse Zellar, 16, a Middletown junior and Full Metal Jackets member, added, "it looks really, really good on applications and portfolios."

Six engineers and technicians also worked with the team to construct Spyke.

Competition: Earlier this year, Spyke and the Full Metal Jackets placed second at a FIRST regional competition in Houston. The team didn't compete in the national finals in April in Orlando, Fla., because they couldn't pay the $4,000 entry fee.

The FIRST organization sends each team the parts for their robots in January, as well as the rules for that year's competition. The rules change each year.

The team plans on competing in the national finals in April 2002.

hill@vindy.com




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