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We, robot: SHS students team up to help robot get the ball rolling

March 14, 2019

STERLING – How many Sterling High School students does it take to build a robot?

This year, it took about 20, and while some of the robotic club’s members weren’t part of the hands-on part of building it, they all had a hand in it.

Some Golden Bots members designed, others coded, some did administrative work, and others took tools in hand. Regardless of their role, they all played an important part in building a robot capable of maneuvering a ball and shooting it through rings.

Senior Nathaniel Stout is captain, head builder, and driver of Rocinante, a robot named by adviser Alexis Rivera after a spaceship on the SyFy television series “The Expanse.”

“We live in 21st century technology everywhere,” Stout said. “This allows students to get on a more in-depth level of technology, figuring out how and why it works. We live in a very competitive world as well. It’s a recipe for success in terms of teaching kids nowadays.”

Some members do administrative work, such as raising funds, getting sponsors, determining the budget, and promoting the club. It’s become one of the school’s most popular clubs.

Senior Shelly Saathoff handles public relations, which includes maintaining the club’s Twitter account. She plans to study marketing and public relations after high school.

“You can learn so many skills that can help you for the future,” Saathoff said. “A lot of our students are going into engineering [for college], and they’re just learning how to start off and get them a step ahead before they go.”

Students have worked since January assembling and fine-tuning Rocinante with a kit of parts and no instruction manual; everything is touch-and-feel learning.

Rocinante competed in a regional robotics competition in Chicago last weekend. Using levers and elevators to shoot 13-inch balls through a series of hoops, Rocinante went 5-0 in preliminary head-to-head competitions and finished 6-3, ranking 15th out of 53 robots.

Robots at the competition joined forces with others for combined competition as well, and working together is a huge concept.

“It’s not just building something and going to compete,” Saathoff said. “It’s such a fun environment. You aren’t going there to win, you’re going there to improve your robot, and improve yourself as a person. We’re like a family.”

While students have hands-on roles in many of the club’s operative functions, they have the help of adult mentors to help things go smoothly. The club has enlisted the help of electricians from Dennis Electric in Tampico, as well as engineer Andy Wu from Heartland Controls of Rock Falls.

Wu has experience helping high school robotics teams elsewhere, and likes what he sees at Sterling. He said you don’t have to be smart at math in order to succeed in the club.

“There are no prerequisites, as long as you have an open mind,” Wu said. “It’s not so bad as you progress. It’s mainly geometry, and a little bit of algebra.”

The team has a lot of pride in the robot’s success, and they look to have even better results at a competition in Peoria on March 20-23.

“Creating a robot is extremely complicated,” Rivera said. “There are so many trials and errors, and things they need to learn that they may not understand. The purpose of this is them getting their own experiences. The kids literally put their hands on the project and start building.

“It goes far and beyond just getting a screwdriver and making a robot.”