P.K. Yonge DRS robotics team vying for title in international competition

The P.K. Yonge robotics team qualified for the world championships by winning the Orlando regional competition in March.

The P.K. Yonge robotics team qualified for the world championships by winning the Orlando regional competition in March.

P.K. Yonge: Robotics world champs?

Well, we don’t know yet. At this writing, P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School’s robotics team is competing in the FIRST Robotics Championship April 22-25 in St. Louis. The 21-member Roaring Riptide team qualified for the finals in mid-March by earning the top prize in regional competition held in Orlando.

The event isn’t really billed as the “world” championship, but more than 18,000 youth from 40 countries–along with 800 robots–are competing.

This year’s competition theme is “Recycle Rush,” so PKY’s team built its robot to stack recycle bins and move trash cans.

The robotics competition helps students gain technical knowledge and skills and enhances their capacities in science and engineering. They also experience some life lessons on the value of collaboration and innovative thinking.

The P.K. Yonge Roaring Riptide Team 4118 is enjoying great success and inspiring male and female students from 9th through12th grades.

Introduced to the PKY campus in 2012, the FIRST Robotics League has allowed students to explore new opportunities, take on new challenges and think about their futures differently. FIRST Robotics challenges teams to design and build a robot–over just a six-week period.

Teams are not only required to win in competitive events, they also must collaborate with other teams to secure top honors. The focus on collaboration is not only built into the competition, awards are given to recognize exemplars of collaborative spirit. In addition to its first place regional win, the Roaring Riptide received the Gracious Professionalism Award for their work with other teams throughout the competition. Team president Logan Hickox also was recognized as a Dean’s List Finalist.

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Roaring Riptide robotics team makes big splash in FIRST season

The Roaring Riptide of P.K. Yonge, the school’s FIRST Robotics Team, competed in the South Florida FIRST Robotics regional competition this spring, and while the rookie squad didn’t walk away with official honors, the team was invited to present their robot at the Gator Engineering Design Expo later in the year at the UF Reitz Union, and also in the Integrated Product and Process Design (IPPD) meeting.

Pictured, above and below, members of P.K. Yonge's Roaring Riptide robotics team (wearing light blue T-shirts) set up for their FIRST regional competition.

FIRST is an international robotics competition founded by Segway creator Dean Kaman. Competing teams build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. More than 30 Blue Wave high school students are participating.

For a rookie team effort, the P.K. Yonge robot sparked a lot of interest on the competition floor. Other high performing teams worked tirelessly on fixes for the Roaring Riptide robot based on pure potential. The Roaring Riptide’s robot was able to be driven around the court, shoot baskets, and was most proficient at balancing on the “cooperation bridges” (requirements of the competition).

The Riptide squad was an ethnically mixed team and also had a nice blend of boys (11) and girls (six) among the 17 team members. Riptide faculty adviser Kerry Thompson, a physics and biology teacher, said the experience is having a big impact on the students, academically and personally.

Back at PKY, Thompson said the students were not very communicative but now interact frequently in class. Those who seemed to be lacking direction in planning their futures are now excited about robotics and pursuing engineering careers and many are eager to volunteer after school to start up robotics for younger students. Some parents even expressed wishes for seniors to stay back a year and do it all again.

“This experience has opened their eyes to their own future possibilities,” Thompson said.

She said mentors coach and guide the robotics team members, but students develop solutions and do the work. Thompson’s requirements won’t allow students to sacrifice academics for participation: “No Ds or Fs,” even when build season demands commitment six nights a week.

P.K. Yonge is excited about robotics and is exploring ways to implement similar activities in the middle and elementary school. This competition embodies many qualities of a 21st century education: a science/engineering focused, project-based, experiential, collaborative learning experience.

Mentors aiding Thompson (P.K. Yonge) included two Harp Engineering employees, a UF mechanical engineering instructor, two UF engineering graduate students and a local handyman.

Julie Henderson
P.K. Yonge Correspondent