Three Gainesville High School students sit around a table discussing yet another way to build the robot they hope will make them world champs.
The students busy their hands by idly spinning small plastic wheels, screws and axles like toy tops while they consider how much the robot will weigh and how it will maneuver during the competition.
The robot, they explain, has to meet some very specific parameters. For instance, the robot can’t be any larger than an 18-inch cube. It also has to be able to lift a small bean bag onto a platform that is more than two feet tall.
"The planning process is all over the place," sophomore Jakim Johnson said. "We end up building it and scrapping it."
His teammate, sophomore Kevin Ayala, agreed and said the process of building a robot is fairly difficult.
"It’s quite a challenge actually," Ayala said. "You have to put a lot of effort into it. One idea just spreads out into another and you create a robot."
The Gainesville High School Robotics Alliance team is working hard to build a robot that they will take to the Vex Robotics World Championship in Anaheim, Calif., in April.
The team won the Vex Robotics High School competition at Lambert High School in Forsyth County last month. The team competed against 70 other high school teams and qualified for the world championship competition.
"We want to win this competition, that’s our plan," Robotics coach Nantheyyen Ramachandran said. "We’re very excited. This is our second year and these kids are very deserving. They’ve been working hard every day and all of us are really excited because of their hard work."
Though the after-school club is only in it’s second year, it is already making a name for itself. The team of nine students couldn’t be more pleased.
"I’m very proud of us because we’re up against some of the more advanced, sophisticated schools that have been around for many years," Johnson said.
Johnson said he’s looking forward to meeting other teams from around the world and seeing what their robots are like. He said he hopes the influence from other regions of the world will inspire the team’s creativity as they continue to build more robots.
The club was set into motion three years ago when senior Joshua Robinson had an epiphany at a summer robotics camp at Georgia Institute of Technology. Robinson realized how many other students in Gainesville could benefit from having a robotics club. He spent the rest of the summer researching and giving presentations to local companies trying to raise enough money to start the club.
"One of my main motivations was I really like robotics and I wanted everyone to have this," Robinson said. "One of the things I said in my presentation was I wanted this to go all the way down to the elementary level and that just now happened this year."
The team tutors middle and elementary students in robotics using LEGOs after school each week.
Robinson said robotics is more than just a fun hobby, it’s a tool that allows the older students to help teach the younger about science and math.
"There are some kids who say ‘Well, why do I need to learn to measure the back side of a triangle when I’m never going to use it?’" Robinson said. "But in robotics we say ‘Oh, well we can find the height that we need by using that triangle.’ It’s just a great way to promote STEM and it’s fun. They can imagine and then build everything they can."
Robinson said he dreams of building R2D2 from the "Star Wars" movies.
But there is a lot more that goes into building a robot than simply putting the parts in the right places. Robinson is training several of the team members in the art of programing before he leaves for college at the end of the year.
Pramoda Karnati, a freshman, said she doesn’t care for building robots but loves to program them.
"I joined this club because I thought that it would be an interesting thing for my future career," Karnati said. "I want to pursue something in the computer and robotics industry."
The Robotics Alliance is composed of three teams within the club. Karnati’s team qualified for the semifinals. Johnson’s team won the qualifying match that will take the school’s entire team to California.
While qualifying for the world championships is one thing, actually making it there is another. The team is hoping to find sponsors to support their trip to from local businesses and industries.
Ramachandran said the team needs to raise a little more than $4,000 for the trip by the end of March.