Rise of the machines

  • Published
  • By Airman Taylor Phifer
  • 509 Bomb Wing Public Affairs
After thousands of hours and long nights of planning, designing and building two robots, a dream became a reality. It was unlikely for a small high school robotics team in the middle of Missouri to make it all the way to the World Championships, but this team possessed a tremendous amount of desire and commitment that made it happen.

“It’s the passion and dedication that goes into something that will make it great,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets IV, the previous 509th Bomb Wing commander. “This team set that example. We recognize that we can do anything we set our minds to no matter where we come from.”

The Stealth Panther Robotics (SPR) 6424 team, of Knob Noster High School, competed against some of the best veteran teams in the world and finished in the top third of the division at the 2017 FIRST Robotics World Championships held April 26-29 in St. Louis, Missouri.

FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an international youth organization that operates the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). The FRC challenges high school students to design and build game-playing robots and make them complete specific tasks in order to score match points to win the game.

This year, the robotics competition had a steampunk theme. At the start of the match, the robot had to operate for 15 seconds without control from the team, the team then used remote controls to operate their robot for the remainder of the match. The goal was to maneuver their robot to collect neon green whiffle balls, which represented fuel cells, and deliver them to a simulated boiler. This generated steam, which was then transferred to an airship in the middle of the field. Each team had one airship, which was pressurized with steam from the boiler and loaded with plastic gears collected from the field that connected the boiler’s power to four rotors on top of the airship. The team had to collect, deliver and place enough gears on the airship in order to spin all four rotors. Finally, in the last 30 seconds of the match, the robots had to latch on to a rope connected to the airship and rise into the air.

The team travelled to multiple competitions that gave students real-world engineering experience.

The team started at regional competitions in Kansas City, Missouri and then Minneapolis, Minnesota. The team earned the Rookie All Star Award in Minnesota, which gave them a ticket to the World Championships. With the points they earned at the two regional competitions the team lock-in a spot at the Missouri State Championship Invitational. At state the SPR 6424 team finished as a semifinalist and was the top seeded rookie team in Missouri.

The Rookie All Star Award is the highest-judged award for first year robotics teams. It is awarded to a team based on pre-season achievements, professionalism, teamwork, technical design and execution, performance, and overall representation of the FIRST core values.

“We did phenomenally well as a rookie team this year,” said AJ Gooding, a member of the SPR 6424 team. “We finished in the top 25 percent our first year out in the game, and that’s an accomplishment for anyone.”

With the help and leadership of Whiteman Air Force Base and the local community, Knob Noster High School was able to get this program started. Whiteman supplied the team with a building as a dedicated facility to test and practice with their robots. Volunteer Airmen also spent over 600 hours mentoring and helping the team by passing their engineering knowledge to this next generation of innovators.

“These kids’ lives were changed for the better by the mentors and coaches of this program,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. “Whiteman and the community not only changed these kids’ lives, but so many others by this example and by what they were able to accomplish.”