Despite setbacks created by COVID-19 for the 2020-21 school year, JROTC has used this time to promote a positive change. The club is establishing a new VEX robotics team in which students already acquainted with robotics can program and construct a robot to compete in a final challenge.
The current robotics team already provides students with a basic understanding of programming by using the Lego Mindstorms software; however, the VEX program will require the programmers to build upon this previous knowledge and push them to new levels.
“It is our hope that the [original] club will serve as a future springboard towards providing the team with motivated students ready to learn robotics at a higher level,” said senior Christopher Kirschner. “VEX is a much more complex robotics platform that utilizes more advanced technology, a more challenging competitive environment and more industry-standard software.”
Each year, VEX creates a new challenge for students to complete. This year, the students in the JROTC robotics team will be constructing a robot that will place a colored ball into one of the nine towers in an enclosed area. This sounds simple, but this is not an easy task. Competitors must prepare for the added elements of teams, coming in contact with other robots, offense and defense programming, protecting completed towers and finishing in time.
“Teams are randomly paired,” said Kirschner. “The highest-scoring teams across all games are declared the winner. It's not much different than other sporting events, except, instead of bandages and water for hydration, the teams bring spare parts and power tools.”
Practices will be held weekly and will be more of a planning center where students will be assigned jobs and equipped with the knowledge needed to complete each task. The meetings will help to divide tasks and bring together the individual work done by the students to create a finished product.
While constructing the robot, students use a design cycle of Plan/Create/Evaluate/Investigate. This process is repeated until the robot is complete or the team runs out of time. In order to complete the robot, the work is broken down into separate tasks and is constructed at home the majority of the time.
“The VEX program is really an engineering club,” said Kirschner. “This is because, in order to build a complete robot, you'll need to follow the design cycle.”
While this team is new to JROTC, many students are already expressing an interest in this competition. Due to increased student interest, the original plan to meet in the JROTC classroom was overturned.
“So far, all indications point to a big turnout,” said Kirschner. “We are thrilled with all the interest.”
Since technology is essential in this day and age, the military is taking advantage by using robotics to better existing systems and protect their soldiers. This JROTC team presents many ways for participants to understand robotics and assist the military with their skills.
“We hope this club connects students to the opportunities that may be available to them in the military of the 21st century and maybe decide that this is a career that they would like to pursue to help themselves and their country at the same time,” said Kirschner.