Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

August 2010

Rose State College Robot Wars Connect Kids With Science, Engineering


Austin Long, 14, of McLoud, Okla., leans over his miniature robot, holding a flashlight next to the robot’s photo-receptor start button. He’s facing off several other kids’ robots, all built from the same stock, but each wildly different.

The youths are all part of Rose State College’s Kids College summer program, held each summer at the college. Classes in the program range from animation to soccer, crime scene investigation (CSI) to rocketry, cartooning to cheerleading. The robotics class, taught by Rose State College instructor Donna Haworth, is definitely a popular sequence.

Some of the robots have ramps. Others have claws. One holds a whirling, spinning bracket. All are designed by their teams to compete for one thing — who can grab the green puffball before the other robots, thereby winning the game. Four robots are squared off at the edge of the robot arena, a four-foot by four-foot board with concentric squares painted on it. One of the four robots is Austin’s. The kids count down together.

“Five, four, three, two, one!” they say together. Austin flashes his light into the photo-receptor, and his robot’s wheels spring into life, propelling his creation into the central square. Next to Austin sits his shy partner in the gambit, Cameron Killian, 11, of Hawaii, visiting family in Oklahoma for the summer. Although he’s reluctant to talk, Cameron is a creative equal in the team.

Like a bunch of motorized cars, the robots zoom into the arena all at once, aimed in one way or another at the green puffball, balanced on the end of a tube. They arrive almost all at the same time, some knocking one another over in the effort to capture the puffball.

However, Austin and Cameron’s robot has a not-so-secret weapon. In the haste for the prize, the other kids’ robots all bang into one another, knocking the puffball this way and that — right into the robber-band net that the two designed for their robot. However strongly the other robots fight, their efforts only reward Austin and Cameron with yet another victory. The puffball lands, and sticks, in their robot’s waiting mechanical arms.

“Most of the other kids have claws,” Austin explains. “Ours has a net, so it’s got more area that can catch the ball. Claws don’t have as much area. When it falls, we catch it.”

While it sounds simple, the answer displays an understanding of the spatial dynamics involved in the game, Haworth said. More area for the catch equals better odds. The brainstorming, creation and design, and even writing the software are paying off for Austin and Cameron.

“They get to use the scientific method and the engineering process, and they don’t even have to know it,” Haworth said.

Does all this make Austin want to become an engineer?

“Yes,” he answers firmly. “It’s what I’m good at.”

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