DODEA robotics club takes on challenge in national competition
By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 9, 2017
WIESBADEN, Germany — Scientifically minded students from Wiesbaden High School will be using their problem-solving skills to design and build a robot — all in six weeks — to compete against entries from dozens of stateside schools in a series of national competitions this spring.
This year’s theme is “steampunk,” a type of science fiction inspired by the Victorian-era steam-powered technologies common in the writings of authors such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
“I was so excited,” club treasurer and senior Brittney Molloy said. “Last year’s theme was cool, but I personally love steampunk, so I like this year’s theme a little better.”
In competition, clubs use their robots to fill steampunk-inspired towers and airships with balls and gears. Points are awarded to teams for wins and draws, with extra points going to clubs whose robots contribute the most balls and gears to their effort.
“We’re going for the championships, we have to,” said club president Dennis Sarzoso, a senior who is hoping to major in computer science in college. “This is a doable challenge. I feel more experienced from last year, and I feel like I know what to do and how we’ll tackle this challenge.”
The RoboWarriors finished third out of 65 teams from across the U.S. in last year’s regional event in Las Vegas, a club record. They will be looking to go better this time despite having a relatively inexperienced group.
The club will compete at least twice — once in San Diego from March 8-11 and then in Las Vegas from April 5-8. If members do well enough in these competitions, they have a chance to advance to the world championships in St. Louis later in April.
Wiesbaden will be sole representative for European Defense Department schools in the robotics competition, a fact that Principal Greg Hatch attributes to Frank Pendzich, a science teacher at the school.
“I think that it reflects a culture that Mr. Pendzich has worked so hard to get across to the student body,” Hatch said. “We’re lucky to have him here at Wiesbaden High School.”
The team will have six weeks — until Feb. 21 — to design and build the robot they think will give them the best chance of winning in competition. The club will divide into several teams, such as design, coding, mechanical and safety. Pendzich said it’s important that every member be able to move freely from team to team and possess a baseline of skills in every aspect.
Sarsozo, the club president, says he’s eager to get the tangible STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — experience that comes with the competition.
“STEM is connected to the real world, you can really apply it to everything,” he said. “Robotics is an up-and-coming technology, and we get to have hands-on experience with it here.”
Brian Barnes, a teacher at the DODEA Virtual High School and mentor to the Wiesbaden High School RoboWarriors robotics club, describes the drive train of the robot which will be used in this year's FIRST Robotics Competition during the team's season kickoff party, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Wiesbaden.
DAN STOUTAMIRE/STARS AND STRIPES