The Winnovation Team gathered for a group photo. On the left, Dierks, Hill.

What comes to mind when you think of robots? Baby Boomers might remember the model B-9 Robot from the television series Lost in Space. Or more recently, the Discovery Channel’s BattleBots, a robot combat competition. Well, there isn’t any “Danger Danger” or destruction of robots at Winnovation rather, a clear path to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and future innovators through friendly competition building robots.

The non-profit FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) founded back in 1989 by world renowned inventor Dean Kamen whose credited with inventing the Segway (an electric self -balancing human transporter) envisioned a robotics community with team based programs for ages 4 to 18 (pre-K to 12) that can be taught in schools or in a structured after school environment. Kamen counts the first robotic program as his greatest invention.

 For the 20 members of the Winnebago “Winnovation” team it’s a labor of love and for most an obsession. The name stands for; Win for Winnebago and Novation for innovation.    Karen Ness Hill has been the Team Coordinator, along with a lot of help from husband Scott, since its inception back in 2004.

The Hill’s had three son’s come through the program that have since gone on to mentor or coach for robotic teams in California, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas, passing along what they learned and enjoyed.  The “Bot Shop” is a hidden gem tucked in the corner of Pecatonica Street, about six blocks from the high school and was made possible by alumni and parents who purchased the building to help support the program.

You might be asking yourself, “what’s a bot”? It’s short for robot and also called an internet bot which uses a computer program that operates as an agent for a user or to simulate a human activity. Hill explained how team number 1625 came to be. “The Christian Life School in Rockford had a team and we saw a couple of newspaper stories about it that caught our eye,” she said. “One of my son’s and a family member went along with me to the games that were held that year at Northwestern University. We recorded some of the event and thought that this is really cool and we wanted to get involved.”

Members of the Christian Life team gladly mentored Hill which assisted in the establishment of today’s program that competed in their first games back in 2005.  The team is made up of boys and girls from Pecatonica and Winnebago high schools. This group of bright individuals meets everyday after school from 3 to 7:30. The shop is run like a small business. Some of the team members handle the marketing, while others run the machines and develop the components.  On my visit, Sarah was designing and cutting out this year’s logo that will go on a button that is traded by the teams at the games.

Every January, the First Robotics Competition Committee releases the new game challenge and rulebook, and ships out the parts kit. The team proceeds to figure out how the points will be scored offensively and defensively and with the elements of math and analysis it’s determined what machine should be built to best suit the game. Then the real hard work, challenges and fun begins.

 Every competing team builds one robot.  Seth Lightfoot has been a mentor with expertise in electrical and programming, and came through the program from 2009 to 2013.

His experiences in the Winnovation allowed him to achieve a bachelor’s in computer engineering, and he is a software project manager at Collins Aerospace.

As I made my way through the shop, Lightfoot was wiring the robot and instructing under the watchful eyes of team members. He gave me a clear picture of how the build goes from start to finish on the computer.

“We have white boards hanging all over the shop,” he said. “We start with big broad ideas that we boil down to a single mechanism. Then, after we work out the geometry of how things function, the team with the help of computer aided design (CAD) and the AutoDesk inventor integrates everything and the result is a 3D working robot before it’s built,” he added.

Today’s computer software is so sophisticated that it can help measure how different stresses are put on different parts as it moves, along with the center of gravity for balance, and can estimate weight which is vital for the 120 pound robot being constructed.

The entire robot is built in house. Blueprints are passed along to team members where manual mills and water jet lathes cut out the design. The aluminum frame is measured, cut and installed. The brain of the machine is programmed to perform the tasks required in competition.

A match is two and a half minutes long and 3 robots compete on a specially designed course. Teams that face each other are determined by plugging numbers into a computer program algorithm, which creates the matches.

There is a “drive team” which consists of a technician, base human player that loads the game pieces onto the field, a driver, who via remote control uses a handheld device much like an Xbox game controller that moves the robot from point A to B, and an auxiliary driver who’s in charge of scoring. There is a ‘pit” area much like the ones that you would see at NASCAR where the robots are worked on and looked over in between matches.

This season, traffic cones will be placed on the course and the robot has to pick up the cones and place them in certain arrangements on an element of the field in order to score points. Andrew Dierks, now a junior originally started in the seventh grade as a member of the Minivation FTC (First Tech Challenge) for middle schoolers, is the student manager of engineering captain and feels that a new component that the team is utilizing could be key this weekend. “We are using a module called a swerve drive that allows the robot to traverse in any direction without having to pivot,” he explained. “This could be an advantage, so we are confident to get a good placement.”

This year’s theme is “Charged Up”.  Forty to 50 teams will compete at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago March 10-11.  Local teams include the 4H based Boone County Flaming Monkeys, Honoegah high school, Rockford Robotics and State Line Robotics. Winnovation has had a history of competitive success and likes to hold the program to a higher standard. Last year they were awarded the Inspiration Award for their sportsmanship, which qualified them to go to the world engineering competition held in Houston Texas which boasts 3,225 teams globally in 26 countries.  This time around they hope to bring home some hardware, qualify for the world event but according to Hill they been awarded in so many ways. “These kids get hands on experience in a variety of skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” she said. That in itself is priceless.”

Buy Viagra Overnight Delivery USA.