Beaufort News

Going for the big win: Beaufort High's robotics team sets its sights on world competition

Amanda Benoit makes some final adjustments to a load-bearing arm of her team’s robot Thursday at Beaufort High School.
Amanda Benoit makes some final adjustments to a load-bearing arm of her team’s robot Thursday at Beaufort High School. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazette

Beaufort High School's robotics team is not for the faint of heart.

"Our mission is to win," said instructor Doug Plank, who will take nine students to Dallas this month for the VEX Robotics World Championship. The students qualified for the international competition by winning a regional event in Savannah in March.

Robotics contests test real-world

engineering skills and are as competitive as any sporting event Plank has coached or participated in, he said.

"The music is blaring, the people are hollering, the lights are flashing," Plank said. College recruiters attend to search for future engineering students, and one Beaufort High student will dress as the school's mascot, "Eagle Bot."

"It was a good adrenaline rush," said team member Paul Beer, describing the regional contest. "My hand was shaking. I was so nervous."

"There's a lot of tension in the competition," agreed team member Andrew Newell. "It's really fun, too."

The VEX Robotics World Championship will include more than 300 teams in four divisions, according to the company's Web site. This is the first year Beaufort High has competed in the VEX program. Plank said he switched to VEX because the equipment is less expensive and it offers a more comprehensive classroom curriculum than other programs.

Students build robots as part of a class but the competition is voluntary, Plank said.

Plank's students spent about two months building robots for the regional contest and are improving their designs and rebuilding the robots to prepare for the Dallas event.

"We're learning the basics of robotics through the experimental process," Newell said. "It's about trial and error."

The students built their robots to compete in a game called "Clean Sweep." The object is to use robots to move as many balls as possible to the opponents' side of a square field.

Students built one robot for offense -- using eight motors -- to scoop up balls and toss them to the opposing team's side. Another robot built for defense will block balls coming from the opposing team.

Building robots allows students to apply the science and math concepts they study in class, Plank said.

"You can study physics all day, but until you build something with those principles, what have you got?" he asked.

Just as they would in the business world, Plank wants his students to enter the contest confident they can outperform their competitors.

"If you've got a contract to win, customers to satisfy or a profit to make, you've got to do it, or you're going to go out of business," he said.

Junior Cody Weyandt said the team is ready to perform as well as it did at the regionals.

"What's ironic is that the game is called Clean Sweep, and Beaufort High clean-swept the competition," he said.