The Herald Bulletin

April 25, 2013

APA robotics team heading to championships

Students go from Legos to robots

By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. —  You might’ve had a remote control car growing up, but you probably didn’t design and build it yourself before putting it through battles with other remote control cars.

That’s essentially what Anderson Preparatory Academy students do with a robot that looks like a remote control car — minus the fancy paint job.

APA’s Youth Building Our Tomorrow (Y-BOT) robotics team is heading to the championships Saturday in Fort Wayne. In just its second year, the team is already a top seed out of 11 in the league.

“I don’t think many expected much from us,” junior team member Hannah Harpst said. “Now it’s like, look at what we can do.”

Also the smallest in the league with an enrollment of about 320 students, APA earned the top seed by losing only three of 30 rounds during competition, said social studies teacher William Decker. He and his wife, Jean, also a teacher at APA, are co-mentors for the students.

Decker added that the charter has faced some tough competition from schools that have more funding and students — some with over 2,000 enrolled.

“It’s not like some sports where it’s small schools versus small schools,” he said. “You compete against everyone.”

But Harpst and team captain William Stephens like taking it to the next level, and Decker said one of the best ways for them to learn is through trial-and-error.

Stephens, a senior, said he likes facing new challenges and learning how to solve them. “I like to see it (the robot) progress.”

He’s watched the team more than double in size from three to around 10 members and said it “feels amazing” to have the honor of top seed.

“I’ve always enjoyed building things,” Stephens said. “Legos when I was little, models as a teen, so I figured why not (join)?” He’d like to become a mechanic for the Air Force, possibly a mechanic for  unmanned aerial vehicles.

Besides gaining knowledge in areas like robotics and programming, Decker said, he hopes the students learn from their mistakes while using creative thinking in the process.

“It’s never what you designed in your head that’s sitting in front of you,” he said.

And, being a charter school with a military presence, Decker wants to see leadership from his kids.

They’re expected to compete to the best of their abilities, yes, but to do it with a sense of commodore.

Decker said competing teams often help each other out if they can, like offering spare wheels when another robot’s fall off, and then duke it out on the field.

He added most teams want to win knowing they defeated their competition at their best.

Decker has been involved with robotics teams for several years and added he’s glad to see an increased interest from female students. Robotics was once a primarily male event.

Harpst said she loves to develop new ideas, design and build.

“I’m a person who’s always been diverse in what I like to do,” she said, adding she likes to get into a little of everything.

APA is the only school in Madison County with a team in the Y-BOT league.

While there’s also Team Roboto, a FIRST robotics team comprised of students from around the county, Decker said he’d like to see more robotics teams pop up.

If more schools in the area had them, he said, the Y-BOT league would likely build a competition field closer than Fort Wayne.

Y-BOT teams build smaller robots that do essentially the same things as FIRST robots do, he said, but don’t face the large entry costs.

He noted out-of-pocket costs of about $600 a year for Y-BOT leagues compared to the $6,000 FIRST teams often have to dole out per competition.

Y-BOT’s competition season runs January through April. Students receive their challenge shortly before winter break and have six weeks to build their robots, Decker said.

This year, the robots have to pick up Easter eggs filled with nuts and bolts, place and keep them in circles for points and guard the eggs from other robots that attempt to knock them out.

Find Dani Palmer on Facebook and @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.