In the middle of the atrium at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy, with a large group of high school students looking on, a machine that was almost 5 feet tall lifted red totes and stacked them before trying to precariously place a recycling can on top.
The machine’s exposed gears and wires whirred and buzzed.
This robotics demonstration was presented Friday afternoon by Kennesaw-based Kell Robotics, a team of high school students that competes yearly in competitions organized by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an international youth organization focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions.
Kell Robotics was invited to demonstrate their robots by career academy administrators in hopes of inspiring career academy students to join a competitive robotics team that will begin to meet in the upcoming weeks.
“I’m actually finishing up my criminal justice pathway but I have no idea what I want to do,” said Megan Walker, a senior at the career academy. “Then I saw this presentation today and I thought, ‘Oh, this is really cool.’ They were talking about engineering and building things and I’ve always kind of thought about how things work and about building things, but I never really knew how to get those interests into action.”
Career academy administrators plan to have the team ready to compete once FIRST distributes instructions and materials for the round of competitions coming up next year.
“This is a really good way to get kids interested in STEM subjects, manufacturing and other careers that can benefit from robotics,” said Brian Cooksey, chairman of the career academy’s board of directors.
Cooksey explained that teams are usually made up of about 30 students. Each member of the team is assigned a certain area of development to help construct and develop the robot.
“And it’s not all just about software programming or building,” he said. “We also need students who can build a website, manage a team or manage money and even present a business plan. We need creative people, too.”
At the beginning of the year, teams receive a kit of base materials and a set of parameters that they have to follow when building their robot. Outside of that, they can build the robot in any way they want as long as they follow the rules.
The robot they create must be able to perform a task that is also outlined in the kit. An example of a task the teams might have to perform with their robot is what students observed Friday afternoon in the atrium. The robot had to be able to stack four totes and then stack a recycling can on top without the totes toppling over.
“They have about 45 days after they get the kit to start developing and building this robot,” said Cooksey. “So we really need to get started to be able to hit the ground running in January.”
There will be a district FIRST robotics competition in Dalton March 17-19 at the trade center.
“After that, they could do well and go to the national competition in St. Louis,” said Cooksey.
Jacob Brock, a sophomore, said he was impressed that a team of high school students built a robot from scratch.
“I might join the team they start here,” said Brock. “I think it would be really cool to design the robot and then being able to show it off to everyone.”
Brock was able to try driving the robot and using its equipment.
“Driving was easy once you figure it out, but the hard part is lifting the totes up and down because you have to make sure you are super precise,” he said.
The team will be open to any area high school students who want to participate, not only students at the career academy.
“We’re extremely excited about this,” said David Moeller, CEO of the career academy. “We see this as our athletic program. You know the career academy doesn’t have athletics. We serve every high school in the county (Whitfield). This is a great opportunity for our kids to get involved in some kind of extracurricular activity.”
Moeller said he and the members of the board of directors want to see the robotics team grow and succeed. He said the skills learned through the competition can lead to real-world jobs.
“We’re all about workforce development,” said Moeller. “That’s our mission.”
He said local corporations have come to the table to assist with the creation of the team. Shaw Industries and Dalton Utilities, among others, will provide funding and engineering mentors for the team.
“They see the clear benefit to them if they help support and develop this program,” said Moeller. “These skills translate into about every program we have. Northwest Georgia is a manufacturing community and we’re big in engineering. It’s important that we start feeding our industry with young talent and this is a great opportunity to do that.”
Danielle Newman, part of the Kell Robotics team, is a sophomore at Kennesaw Mountain High School. She told the career academy students this was only her second year on the team, but the experience changed her interest in engineering and possibly her future.
“Before joining the team, I didn’t really know at all what I wanted to do,” she said. “But after learning to design and build this thing, I’ve gotten really interested in mechanical engineering to the point that I know now that’s what I want to do with my life.”