, Port Arthur, Texas

February 16, 2007

PNMS Robotics team goes haywire in competitions


PORT NECHES — Middle school students in Port Neches got a taste of the life of a NASA scientist recently as the school’s Robotics team captured several medals at Regional and State competitions.

Using basically the same program as NASA does with the Mars Land Rover, the sixth through eighth graders worked for months building “bots” that helped them come home with prizes and a little more pride.

In their fifth year of Robotics at PNMS, campus sponsors Marlene Portier and Lea Ann Parks explained that the theme of the competition this year was disaster relief and the teams purpose was to save “survivors” and clean up “debris” also known as Spam and Dr. Pepper cans.

At the Regional meet, which was held in January at Sour Lake Elementary, team members Jonathan Gay, Kevin Angus, Hillary Baker and Taylor Thompson walked away with the first place gold medals as well as a $360 NXT Robotics kit, a top of the line kit used for creating the best type of bot.

“It’s kind of an underdog story,” Angus said, explaining that the Wednesday before the Saturday competition, the team’s robot was destroyed.

The bot had to be rebuilt in the few days before leaving for competition, a task Gay said helped the team walk away with the top prize.

“This one is better than the first one,” Gay commented.

Christopher Collins, Kaitlyn Authment, Kayla Williams and Brian Motte, also known as the “Monster Bots” earned the second place prize at the regional competition and then at the State meet in February in Austin, received the fourth place prize.

“Fourth place was okay, but we could’ve done better,” Collins, an eighth grader commented. “We were hoping for second place at least.”

Taking five months to build the bot and an additional four to build the program using the Lego Mindstorm computer program, the Monster Bots’ creation had seven subroutines programmed in and touch sensors to tell between the soda and Spam cans.

Although the “Golfbot 8000” team didn’t bring home any medals, they brought home something to make their grandfathers proud of. Team members Grant Rowland, Michael Culver and Stanton Perry created the golf ball retriever in honor of their grandfathers who enjoy playing the sport, but have back problems. The sixth graders researched back problems to create their bot and even built a golf course in order to show off their creation.

“These are smart boys and they’ll do great things next year,” Portier said of the threesome.

The big winners on the Robotics team, though, were the inventors of the “Sock-It-2-Me Sock Sorter”, a robot that sorts laundry, a product that is not yet on the market. Creators of the Sock Sorter, Kellen Arnold, Bryan Johnson, Lucas Lopez and Bryce Schumacher, competed in Division I, a section normally reserved for high schoolers.

Taking the second place prize, the team had to not only create a bot, but market it as well, with a commercial type skit. The boys went above and beyond by making a television set to sit behind for their info-mercial plugging the Sock Sorter.

To raise money for their trip to Austin, the Robotics team worked the concession stand at basketball games. Corporate sponsors Huntsman and BASF not only supported the teams financially, but also came into the school and helped the teams build the bots. The sponsors also provided the team shirts, robotics kits, trip monies and a laptop on which to work.

Over the years, the Robotics team has earned three first place prizes and three second place prizes at the Regional competition. In the State competition, PNMS has earned first, second, third, and fourth place medals.

At the State meet in February, over 135 competed.