AZALEA STUDENTS GET A LESSON IN ROBOTICS
May 06, 2005 11:00 pm
Kyle Beyer works with judges setting up robots. Cameras and projectors allow audience to see action. (Photos by Dewey Brady).
Kyle Beyer works with judges setting up robots. Cameras and projectors allow audience to see action. (Photos by Dewey Brady).

Pilot story by Marjorie Woodfin

PORTLAND – Alain Chirinian and members of his eighth grade honors science class at Azalea Middle School rolled into Portland last weekend to participate in the annual PDXbot.05 Robotics Competition and Expo.

It was the sixth year Chirinian and students from Brookings have participated in the competition.

Chirinian and 16 students rolled home with impressive awards, having won third and fourth place overall in the contest at Portland State University. The contest includes eight competitive events for the sumo robots.

Chirinian explained that the sumo robots built by the students for the competition are not like those the general public is most familiar with that are controlled via remote input from a person with a transmitter. He said, "These (that are remote controlled) are not robots at all."

The competitive sumo robots are autonomous and must be constructed with a capacity to "think."

"They can see, hear and in some ways think for themselves without the help of a human controlling them," Chirinian explained.

The Azalea students, with the help and encouragement of their instructor, were able to build six sumo robots smart enough to compete with honor.

Chirinian said, "The rules of the mini sumo competition are straightforward. No robot is permitted to weigh over 500 grams (17.5 ounces) and the length and width cannot exceed 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters [approximately 4 inches square]." In addition, he explained, "The robot must be programmed to ‘think' by reacting to what they ‘see' using different sensors on board … must be able to locate the opponent, attack, parry and escape when necessary and, above all, never cross the dreaded white line on the border of the ring."

The competition was the focus and the most exciting part of the trip, but there were other perquisites as well. Beginning on Friday night, students, teachers and chaperones had dinner in Wilsonville before checking in at the Hilton Garden Inn for a good night's rest. Saturday was spent at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) where, Chirinian said, "There is always something new and exciting to do while learning science."

After the day spent at OMSI, "the real work of the trip began," the teacher said.

"The group took over a large conference room at the hotel, staying up until 1 a.m. in a frenetic round-robin of testing, programming, retesting and reprogramming their robots to be ready for the event they came for," Chirinian said.

Prior to participating in the event, the students raise funds through school dances, car washes and other activities to help pay for the trip and equipment for building the robots.

Chirinian said this year's preparation for the event included the extra pressure of being a month earlier, "leaving no extra room in the students' schedules for final ‘battle ready' testing procedures.

"In spite of the extra pressure the students managed to field six working robots in the tournament – more than any previous group."

Chirinian has been teaching science in the Brookings-Harbor School District for six years, at the high school and the middle school.

"This is by far the most technologically advanced project undertaken by any class in this region," he said.

The students who participated in the event were, Alexandra Ambrose, Briana Amlin, Chase Bansemer, Chris Bones, Glen Brady, Brandon Bristow, Kyle Byer, Rachel Carrillo, Sean Farris, Molly Moncrief, Mitch Pruden Mark Stevens, Kevin Sthen, Katlyn Voight, Celeste Vonada and Dylan Wentz.

Chirinian also expressed gratitude for "their wonderful chaperones, including Robert Carrillo, Sea Farris, Mark Stevens, Debbie Moncreif, Conan Patterson and Gloria Sthen."