(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 10, 2013)
The students of the Impi Robotics team have come up with an interesting way to tackle the challenge of this year’s obstacle course competition. They’ve invented a robot with a long stretching limb that climbs up towers and puts Frisbees in basket-targets in a game against other student-made robots.
Jeffrey Shewell, engineering mentor for the team, explained “The robot’s name is La Jirafa, which is Spanish for giraffe. With the long arm sticking up out of the middle of the robot with the basket on top, the students thought that it looked like a giraffe. It also went well with our African theme.
“An Impi is actually a Zulu warrior. We started as a joint team with students in America and South Africa. Unfortunately, getting funding in South Africa has been very difficult the last few years. We are still very close with the mentors and former students there. They are trying to get funding to get going again. We hoped that they would be back up and running this year, but they didn’t quite pull it off.”
With La Jirafa, the Impi players, who are from Ferndale Schools and other nearby districts, travel to compete with other teams in a challenge that is slightly different each year. Essentially their job is to build a robot to play a game against other robots. They compete with teams regionally and, if they are good enough, at a state level. Shewell described the premise of the competitions. “Every team around the country learns what the game will be typically on the first Saturday of January. The game changes every year. Last year the robots had to play a basketball-like game.
“This year the game pieces are Frisbees. The robots can shoot Frisbees up into rectangular goals. The harder the goal is to shoot at, the more points the robot gets for each Frisbee. In addition, the robots can also get bonus points by climbing up the big jungle-gym-like pyramid at the end of the match. The higher the robot climbs, the more bonus points it gets.
“There is also a special goal at the very top of the pyramid. Frisbees that get scored in that goal are worth the most. Once we learned what the game was, we had about 6 weeks to design, prototype, build, and practice with the robot.
“Instead of shooting the Frisbees, we decided to really focus on climbing the pyramid. We’ve found that it’s typically better to focus and do one thing really well instead of trying to do a little of everything and just being mediocre at everything. We didn’t think that there would be many climbing robots, so we really wanted to take up that challenge. After the six weeks, we had to put the robot in a big plastic bag which we couldn’t open until we brought it to our first competition.
“Many robots were able to climb on the bottom level of the pyramid (which is pretty easy to do). We were the only robot that was able to successfully climb all the way to the top. We were very proud of that. In addition, our robot would load up four Frisbees in our “basket”, climb up to the top of the pyramid, then dump those Frisbees in the goal at the top.
Student videos of the competitions show the amazing robot in action. Parents say theirs is the only climbing robot that has been able to make it to the top of the goal pyramids.
Shewell talked about the exciting first competition. “It was at Waterford Mott high school. There were 40 teams at the competition. The structure of the competition is that each team plays 12 round robin qualification matches. The matches are 3 robots against 3 robots, and you are randomly teamed up/against the other 40 teams during the round robin rounds. After the qualification rounds, we had 9 wins and 3 losses, which ranked us 6th. After the qualification rounds, the top 8 teams get to pick two other partners for a final elimination tournament. Unfortunately, the gearbox that pulls our robot up the pyramid broke in our first elimination match, so we weren’t able to get all the way to the top. With not enough time to fix the gearbox between matches, our alliance wasn’t able to score enough points during our elimination matches, so we weren’t able to get past the quarter finals. It was very bad luck.”
The team did come home with a Creativity Award, honoring “creative design, in process, execution, or via a creative or unique strategy of play.”
The second competition was in Grand Blanc March 22. By the end of the competition, IMPI ranked 49th in the state, bumping them up high enough to make finals.
They then used their teamwork skills to raise money to compete in the state championships, taking place this weekend at Eastern Michigan University. Residents in the Ferndale School District chipped in, and Garden Fresh Salsa also contributed. The teams progress can be followed on their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/impirobotics, and this story will be updated with the results.
Shewell is in his eighth year mentoring the group. “I have seen the benefits that the program has played in the lives of many students,” he said. “It gets the students interested in science and engineering in a fun way that’s difficult to pull off in the classroom. It’s really amazing to see gyms full of students from around the state rooting on the robots that they had a hand in designing and building.” There are 30 students on the team and six mentors, plus dozens of supportive parents and community members cheering them on.
Those interested in supporting the team for further competitions can contact them at email@example.com.