ATLANTA — Minutes before they were to board a bus Monday to the national SkillsUSA competitions in Atlanta, Heritage High School students turned on their robot for a final check, and the camera melted amid sparks and smoke.
Fortunately Avery Rayfield and William LaForest had two backup camera options for their entry in the Robotics Urban Search and Rescue competition.
“Our robot was designed for modularity, and it proved itself,” Rayfield said Thursday in Atlanta.
Unfortunately, during the one opportunity they had to run the robot through a course to find and retrieve simulated bombs, it lost voltage and stalled.
Rayfield said he wished that he had practiced driving the robot more, and the competition drove home for LaForest the importance of communication among the team members while the robot navigates the course, because the driver can view only what is seen through a camera and is separated from the course by a divider.
Just across from their event in one of three huge exhibit halls at the Georgia World Congress Center, HHS students Luke Wiget and Burl Grubb had multiple opportunities to practice and run their robot in Mobile Robotics Technology.
Judges like to mix up the challenge by changing elements and point values on a course where robots must run autonomously and by remote driver to complete various tasks. After arriving at the competition, “they have to completely reprogram the robot,” said engineering teacher Sam Warwick.
Returning to in-person competition this year after virtual events during the pandemic showed the value of having the teams in one room instead of on Zoom. One of the ideas Wiget saw that he’d like to incorporate in a robot next year is pneumatic controls.
When they weren’t competing, those four Blount County Schools students could chat with other teens who came from across the country for the national event after winning their state competitions.
Meanwhile in a far corner HHS student Hayden Poe was so focused on the tasks in his Automotive Refinishing Technology competition that he was barely aware of what the dozens around him were doing. When they stepped into a painting booth the contestants literally were covered from head to toe in required gear.
Working from 8 a.m. to nearly 4 p.m. Poe had to sand a surface with about a 3-inch scratch to prepare it for painting, tape off a car fender and door to prepare them for painting, operate a spray gun multiple times in a paint booth, identify and mix paint colors, and take a written test.
“State wasn’t anything compared to this,” the 2022 Heritage High graduate said of the competition in which he won a gold medal this spring, which qualified him to compete at the national level in Atlanta.
Thursday was “intense,” Poe said, and teacher Lynn Robinson, who watched him throughout the day, said it was like the Super Bowl for these competitors.
Color tinting was the biggest challenge for Poe, who has been practicing that this summer after work with Robinson at the school.
William Blount High School 2022 graduates who competed earlier in the week, Henry Myers in Pin Design, and Gracie Phinney and Julia Kessler in Mechatronics, will join the HHS students and about 5,000 others for the awards ceremony tonight, June 24, at State Farm Arena.
Heading back to their hotel around 5 p.m. Thursday after starting their competitions at 8 a.m., some of the students had just one goal for today: sleep in.