Portales students prep for robotics contests

By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer

Portales High School students are getting their gears whirring and computer programs going for two robotics competitions around the end of the month in Albuquerque.

One team of four students plans to participate in the state Math, Engineering and Science Achievement contest April 29, and a separate team is set to compete in an international event called Robo Robotics Are Very Educational on May 2. RoboRAVE focuses on the robots, but MESA has competitions in other areas as well.

“Everybody is using the same robotics kit, and they design the robot from the pieces in those kits,” said robotics teacher Jack Willis. “They are using Lego technology, and the newest technology in Legos is NXT, and that is the type of program for a computer block that runs the robot.”

Kits cost $250, but MESA sometimes loans them to schools.

The robots the students build and program have to be a certain size, and travel a course to deliver a payload.

Almost everything the robot does earns points. Students have to complete the course in less than three minutes and compete against other teams.

Student robot designer Tanner Ainsworth has been working with robots off and on.

“The only thing we were not able to do at the (MESA regional) competition was get the robot to turn around,” Ainsworth said. “So, when we got back, I reprogrammed it. Mr. Willis and I sat out in the lobby at the competition for about an hour trying to get the robot to turn around.”

Portales leads the state with the most points in robotics, with 155 in the first part of the round.

Russell Van Dam is the programmer for the team. Van Dam was in the MESA team last year, but this is his first time working on the robot.

Van Dam said it is fun being able to work with the robot and team.

“It is pretty good going to state; we get to be out of school,” Van Dam said. “We get to compete and get a trophy, and it helps with scholarships.”