New Berlin — Standing barely two feet tall, the little robot doesn't look much like a basketball player.
But the little fellow can grab a pass — as long as it's rolling on the floor — and shoot the oversized ball in for a score. But he doesn't shoot at a basket, he shoots at a hole in a wall. But he can do it all by himself.
Still, it's better when the pint-size fellow gets an assist from his teammates, high school students from both New Berlin high schools. They not only drive the little guy around robots on other teams in mini-basketball matches, but the students can aim his shooting arm to take shots.
The New Berlin Blitz Robotics Team 5148 designed and built the robot in six weeks for a robotics competition held in the US Cellular Arena in downtown Milwaukee.
At the competition, the team saw their robot perform all by itself in an individual competition for the first 15 seconds of matches. Then it joined a team with two other robots where they and their human drivers took on other three-robot teams in games of "hoops."
For the individual competition, the little robot had to pick up the ball, drive toward the goal and shoot. In the two-minute team play, it jostled with other robots as they passed the ball to each other and took their shots. For the matches, one student drives the New Berlin player, another operates its shooting arm and a third keeps the ball in bounds.
This was the New Berlin team's first time at that Wisconsin regional competition, and the team that was formed only this year walked off with the Rookie All-Star Award.
This week the team and their 150-pound basketball creation are in St. Louis competing in the robotics world championships sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Hundreds of teams from all over the country and the world including China, Egypt, Canada and Mexico are there.
"I'm more excited than nervous," said Eisenhower engineering and technology teacher Devin McKinnon who coaches the team along with Michael Krack, New Berlin West math teacher.
It will be interesting to see if any of the other teams have the unique design the New Berlin team created, she said.
Its use of a suction arm to pick up the ball and throw it was entirely unique at the regionals, she said. The robot uses two motors and a piston to first create the suction to pick the ball up and then releases the suction to "throw" the ball. The ball is sucked so strongly into the suction arm that when it's released, it blasts away from the robot as it if were thrown, McKinnon said.
To program the robot to get the right trajectory for its shot wherever it is on the court is tough.
"It's quite a bit of physics," McKinnon said. The robot not only needs to line up its shot, but know how much suction the piston needs to create to send the ball into the right arc.
To get it all right, the kids had the help of mentors from area businesses. The robotics team that was about 40 strong during the building phase divided into four teams, each with mentors.
Not all the kids on the team are science wizes. They come with all different interests and backgrounds. Some, for example, are needed to find all-important sponsors to help afford materials and tools.
Students wrote letters and worked the phones using tips and connections from parents. Fundraising was very successful, McKinnon said.
"Usually local companies are looking for ways to help," she said.
Project manager was Momin Mohis, a junior at Eisenhower, who worked with other students from 6 to 9 p.m. or even later on weeknights and from 8 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. on Saturdays. That went on for six weeks, and they had to get their homework done, too. But it was all worth it.
"I would do it again, over and over," he said. "The look on everyone's' face when it shot the first score was priceless.
"We scored points and won a couple of games."
By his count, the New Berlin B-ball player shot six times, making four of its shots in the 10 matches it played.
"We mainly played defense," Momin explained.
The design and building experience crunched down into a short six weeks, according to the competition rules, was grueling but stimulating.
"I've learned so much; it really changed my life," Momin said. "Having a real world challenge has been really worthwhile."
Momin wants to be a biomedical engineer and work on prosthetic limbs.
The team's articulate and outgoing coach, who pushed to establish a robotics team after the growth she experienced on her high school team, said each student receives something different.
In her own case, she said, "I used to be a shy and quiet kid."
But being on her high school robotics team gave her confidence and brought her to a crucial realization: "I could do things, I could talk to people, I could figure things out."
MENTORS HELP MAKE IT POSSIBLE
Business Team mentors were Tom Peterson of Rockwell, Michael Wiebe of Krones Inc.
Electrical Team mentor was Curtis Doane of Dematic Corp.
Mechanical Team mentors were Tony Bishop of GE Healthcare, Matthew Denzin, self-employed electrician, Jeff Pahl, self-employed mechanical engineer, and Paul Zelinger, technical education teacher currently substituting in school districts
Programming Team mentors were Jasper Mayzik of Dematic Corp., Wesley Taylor of Joy Global, Inc. and Pete Thomas of GE Healthcare
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