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Values found in robotics competition

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The business of building competition-ready robots is a dirty job, Nathaniel Johnstone told Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club members Tuesday during a demonstration.

Excluding the kit for a basic frame, members of the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Georgia robotics team — Genesis 4195 — customized their own robot and put it to the test in two competitions this year, one in Dalton and another in Columbus.

The FIRST — for inspiration and recognition of science and technology — Robotics Competitions require each team to follow certain design specifications, relative to what the competition entails, while completing construction in six weeks. For the most recent competitions, the team built a robot to complete the task of picking up a cube and placing it in a box — this involves mechanical, electrical and computer programming work. In previous years, the team was tasked with designing a robot to shoot Frisbees into goals or play soccer.

Those rules make up 131 pages, Johnstone said, speaking with slight frustration at the meticulous judging, which came up during a recent competition.

Mentor Eric Turner told Rotarians that after arriving at the competition and having their robot inspected, they were told steel brackets were not allowed, only aluminum. So right on the spot, the team set out to switch out the brackets while the mentors searched for the nearest home improvement store for materials, he said.

“They don’t tell you how (to build it),” Johnstone said. “They just tell you what you can’t do.”

There is defense involved in the four vs. four matchups, with teams attempting to block or bump other robots trying to achieve a set objective. However, it does not equate to all-out robot battles as seen on TV, said Johnstone.

“They’re not going to come and pluck the wires,” he told Rotary members.

The local group is the only Boys & Girls Club in the state to have a competitive robotics team. However, team members said this, at times, can put them at a significant disadvantage, in terms of team size and budgets.

Cameron Johnson, a 2018 Rome High graduate who plans to study at Georgia Highlands College and focus on mechanical engineering, said school teams can have 30 or more team members compared to the 12 on their own.

Tim Groves, a mentor who helps with engineering aid for the team, told Rotarians that some of the large school robotics programs, like those with 80 members, can also be working with $200,000 budgets.

But regardless of the team’s results at competitions, each member Tuesday spoke of the valuable lessons gained, from finding a passion for engineering as Aja Morgan did to the benefit of teamwork in the case of Jaden Roberts.

Rome High 2017 graduate Ronald Johnson, a team member of six years before becoming a mentor after graduation, said when he joined the team he really had no idea he would come to love it. Now a GHC student with plans to transfer to Kennesaw State University, he said his participation instilled in him an interest in electrical engineering, which he plans to pursue.

Cameron Johnson, who is the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year in Rome, echoed Turner in saying,

“The greatest gift I can give this world is personal growth.” And there was plenty to go around for members of the robotics team.