Originally Published: July 7, 2011 10:05 p.m.
Prescott High School student Katie Duke had no idea that programming a "sumobot" would be so complicated.
Duke enrolled in the Robotics Workshop at Yavapai College because she likes math and science but was "blown away" by the experience of getting her 'bot to do what she and a partner programmed it to do - push another 'bot out of the competition ring.
The word sumobots immediately conjures up big robots with chain saws, fire and hydraulic lifts trying to destroy each other.
That is not the reality of the 'bots made June 27-July 1 by the 16 students enrolled in the Robotics Workshop.
Instructor Rick Peters said that unlike the fighting 'bots seen on television, the sumobots have no fire, no lasers, no cutting edges and nothing that would disable another person's program. The sumobots also were autonomous - not remote controlled.
Instead, the sumobots are about 4 inches by 4 inches and move according to how the students program them.
The sumobots came in a kit, and the students had to build them and program them.
Sixteen students participated in the workshop - five girls and 11 boys. The students worked in teams of two, with a Yavapai College student mentoring a group of four students.
For Chino Valley High School student Stanley Swiacki, 15, programming the robots was "really, really hard."
Swiacki enrolled in the workshop "because even as a biologist I will probably work with robots once or twice."
Mentor Liz Peters said most of the students had never done any programming before the workshop.
"They are computer savvy, but not used to dealing with complex programs. We showed them the basics and dropped them in the deep end," Liz Peters explained. "Programming is less mechanical than computer skills. Programming is not visual; it is straight text."
Prescott High School student Tessa Diehl, 15, enrolled in the program to "keep my career options open. I have never experimented with robotics and didn't know if I would like it. It was fun."
Diehl said she has learned "how little things go into big stuff. Driving here today (July 1), I looked at the stop light and thought about all the programming that goes into it."
Rick Peters explained that students enrolling in the workshop must have an A or B grade in science, a letter of recommendation and must submit their transcripts.
"The idea behind the workshop is to get the kids pumped up about math and science, to consider a career in math or science," Peters said.
During the workshop, he stated that students learned basic programming, engineering design processes and how to actually make something.
This is the first year the college has offered the Robotics Workshop. Peters is the Yavapai College electrical and instrumentation technology instructor. He also is the adviser for the college's robotics team.
Mentor Frederick Lloyd said the amount of talent among the students in the county is amazing.
According to him, the students have the desire to learn, and the "ability to focus by devoting time to planning. Programming takes planning. All the students are very inventive."
Liz Peters noted that it was fun to watch the students discover that "the robots do exactly as they tell it to do. This workshop teaches physical, hands-on forward thinking and hopefully the application of that 'evil' math that kids hate."
Duke said she had a feeling of accomplishment when her sumobot worked. She also learned her choice of a career, engineering, is probably the correct one for her.
The Robotics Workshop is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Program, and received a grant from the Arizona Science Foundation based on a Federal Stimulus Grant through the State of Arizona.