As the “Salty Spitoon” robot splashed its way through a plastic pool behind Bradford Area High School, students encouraged Collin Haskins and teammates Mike Bosworth, Brett DeGolier and Easton Rinfrette in their attempts to guide the remote-controlled machine in picking up a block and drop it precisely into a little box.
In the end, the Salty Spitoon from Bradford high placed first in the sea competition of the second-annual Sea, Land and Air Robotic Challenge at the campus on Thursday.
The event, coordinated by Bradford high science teacher, Pete Eckstrom, hosted 25 teams and 139 students from 10 school districts in Pennsylvania and New York state. He said the competition grew significantly from last year’s event at Bradford high.
The teams that participated in the land and air competitions had robots carry out similar remote-controlled functions in small enclosures on the floor and in the air above the gymnasium floor.
Eckstrom said the champion of the air challenge was the Kane Air Team from Kane Area High School, while the champion of the land challenge was the Coudersport "Rod Fathers" from Coudersport Junior Senior High School. Each winning team won a plaque.
Other schools that competed in the event were from Northern Potter, Otto-Eldred, Oswayo Valley, St. Marys and Smethport high schools; as well as Ellicottville and Franklinville high schools in New York state.
Eckstrom said similar to the sea challenge, the robots in the land challenge were remotely operated from screens and had to pick up items and put them in certain locations. Students also had to remotely operate “quadcopters,” or robots with four propellers, above the gymnasium floor.
“This is how STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) works, this is how you get kids involved in that,” Eckstrom explained. “This is sponsored by Penn State Electro-Optics Center and the Office of Naval Research.”
As for the requirements of the competition, Eckstrom said each team of students had a cap of $500 to spend on their systems.
“Most of them were under that and didn’t spend more than $350,” he added. “It’s all student-driven … I know with me, they designed the system and they had a budget.”
He said the students also ordered the parts, built the robots and tested them.
“Each team has people who bring something to the table,” he continued.
In addition to the competition, the students heard a presentation by Lt. Col. Sean Coulter of the R.O.T.C. program at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
Also at the event were representatives Dan Haines and Jamie Bowen from the Seneca Highlands Aero Radio Kontrol Society, or SHARKS, a radio-controlled model airplane club in Eldred.
“We were asked to come and give opinion or technical advice, if were asked,” said member Dan Haines. “We fly radio-controlled helicopters, airplanes and quadcopters.
“The kids are having a great time and they’re learning a lot,” Haines said.
Payton Allen and Alan Burritt, students with the air team “Fire and Fury,” from Bradford high said they had a good time with the competition.
“We didn’t do very good, we crashed on both rounds,” Allen admitted. “But I enjoyed it. I think events leading up to this (making the robots) are more fun than the actual flight.”
Students who were on a land competition team from Ellicottville were Abby Donoghue, Madisyn Kilby and Brianna Freaney.
“We’re doing the land challenge, we have to pick up a block and put it in containers” with the robots, Donoghue said.
Kilby said she thinks “it’s cool to be able to design and create your own robot and see it work in real life.” All three girls said they may study engineering in college.
Jay Israel, assistant principal from Kane Area High School, was supervising the air challenge team from that campus.
“I think we did well, but I don’t know how we placed,” Israel remarked. “But it was a great day — a lot of fun for the kids and the adults.”