Gearing up: AAHS robotics class tests its mettle at BEST competition | News, Sports, Jobs

Altoona Area High School marketing team members Kaelyn Krouse (left) and Arrow Kelly of the advanced robotics class familiarize themselves with their class’s entry for the for the BEST Robotics competition. / Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Altoona Area High School students will test their minimally invasive surgery robot during a competition Saturday at Grove City College.

Students from Frank Harpster’s advanced robotics class were looking to show off what they created over the last eight weeks at the BEST Robotics competition.

Harpster’s students missed advancing to the regional competition last year, finishing fourth.

With many of last year’s team returning, “We are hoping to do better … and possibly go to regionals this year, which are in Denver, Colorado,” Harpster said.

He said every year the contest has a different theme reflecting a real world situation. This year’s theme is “incision decision,” requiring creation of a surgical robot that can perform surgeries on a training platform for minimally invasive surgery.

James Evans of the Altoona Area High School advanced robotics class checks a bolt on his class’s surgical robot entry in the BEST Robotics competition. / Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Potential tasks include a brain biopsy, cardiac valve repair, coronary artery bypass, cardiac ablation, pacemaker electrode connection, arterial plaque removal, cardiac angioplasty, vein harvesting or internal hemorrhaging damage control.

Austin Burk, Owen Hoover and Josh Adams took the lead to help their classmates build their robot, often using their study hall period to work on designing, building and creating the parts from classmates’ input.

“We would come up with a concept, and then we would figure out what to build in order to make the idea come to life,” Hoover said.

Hoover said that eight weeks seems like a long time, but it is not with the amount of work they had to do.

“You can’t do it all by yourself; it is something we have to work on as a team,” he said.

Hoover said while the hard part is bringing it all together, being able to see the final product is satisfying.

Students also create marketing plans for their robots as if they were selling them to a hospital.

Kaelyn Krouse, who is a part of the marketing team, said she likes giving the presentation because it gives the students a chance to talk about everything the robot does and how it would benefit people.

“We are basically hyping up the robot and saying why it is better than the others,” she said.

While Hoover is not able to attend this year’s competition, he was there last year and gave some insight about how it all works.

The day at Grove City starts at 8 a.m. when they set up their booth, figure out what they are doing and make final changes to their robot if needed.

Hoover said he liked how everyone is open to helping each other.

“We collaborate with the other teams. People share their tools, ideas and programming,” he said.

Then they check in and make sure their robot meets the specifications.

Hoover and Burk both said that the competition can get very loud with the teams supporting each other and some playing instruments to show school spirit.

“Sometimes it gets so loud in there you can’t even think,” Hoover said.

Burk said, “For a robotics competition, it is almost like a football game.”

Burk said in the different rounds of the competition, team members take turns operating the robot.

“A lot of it comes down to being able to make changes on the fly because you can only anticipate so much from the rules until you get there and see how everything works,” he said.

Hoover said there is not enough time to do all the tasks, so they pick and choose what they want to do.

At the end of the day, scores are tallied, which also includes the marketing presentation and an engineering notebook.

Hoover said last year’s team was lacking at first. “We came in with a robot and a plan that did not work at all,” he said.

After making some adjustments and taking advice from other people, the situation improved during the second half.

“We were one of the best teams there, so it made up for that,” Hoover said.

He said the competition was “probably one of the most fun days I have ever had.”

Harpster said the students are very excited knowing that they are representing Altoona.

“They are representing their own ingenuity and hard work,” he said.

Robotics can cover many different areas, and it allows the students a chance to get experience in different things they might have interest in for careers or studies in the future, he said.

“Quite a few students have expressed interest in engineering and robotics because of the class,” Harpster said.

At the time of the interview, he said there were 11 students traveling to the competition in Grove City along with some band members to provide school spirit.

Harpster estimated the number of students involved to be about 60, including 30 from his classes, plus art students who helped with design elements and students from the biomedical program.

Mirror Staff Writer Cati Keith is at 814-946-7535.

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