The high school experience is quite different than it was 10 years ago. Just look how a physics teacher introduces the concept of drones. Rather than taking a field trip to the library to begin the hunt for information, students are tasked with learning the design, build and functionality of drones through innovative software like AutoCAD and 3D printing.
Thanks to Rohn Olson, senior tech fellow at Bell, those same high school students are putting their classroom knowledge and skills to the test at the Bell Advanced Vertical Robotics (AVR) Competition.
Rohn spearheaded the initiative in 2017 as an effort to provide a more engaging approach to robotics competitions. This approach, including the addition of a 7-person team and multi-model integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ground-based vehicles, has been well received by school districts, expanding annual participation very quickly.
“Watching this competition grow over the past five years from two local high school teams to over 80 teams around the country this year has been a phenomenal experience,” said Rohn. “We’ve clearly hit a sweet spot to expand robotics into the aerial realm which adds a whole new dimension for both the design challenge and the scope of technology that students learn.”
The competition is no small feat. Teams are provided kits 10 weeks prior to the competition to design, manufacture and test an AVR drone and ground vehicle. The challenge – although different every year – tests the multi-modal on transportation, payload, delivery and aerial tasks, which allows students to explore key engineering concepts such as structural changes, autonomous coding and aerodynamic forces. Teams then bring their designs to the state competitions with hopes of securing a spot at nationals.
Andy Shields, a student representing the Greenville High School team, credits the ingenuity of Bell’s competition program for his participation.
“The thought of competing in a very unique new competition sounded amazing,” said Andy. “Going from 3v3 on ground competition to a 7-person drive team in flight and on ground match piqued my interest.”
Once registration was complete, Andy and his Greenville team were all in. They built their drone and ground vehicle along with a field so they could continuously run simulation matches. The field included old fiber-reinforced concrete (FRC) cubes to operate as buildings so the students could practice color sensing.
Although the Greenville team came fully prepared to the Bell AVR Competition, they began to struggle when their rover flipped over, allowing their sphere carriage to fall out.
It was a major failure, but Adrienne Emerson, Greenville ISD’s robotics director, re-centered everyone to get them back on track.
“The team was in a bad state when most teams passed our score and it all came down to one more match,” said Andy. “Our teacher gave a speech that lifted our spirits, and the team attached a bunch of safety precautions just in case the rover flipped again. We ended up performing a perfect run and set the world record.”
Now that Andy and his teammates have achieved world record status at Bell’s AVR Competition, he will continue to make his mark in college. Andy plans on studying aerospace engineering which will help him land a job at a major space program at a workplace like NASA or SpaceX.
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