Fort Mill Times

Indian Land engineering students put it together in robotics competition

Logan Waldo, a senior robotics student at Indian Land High, shows how his team’s robot is capable of moving and picking up blocks.
Logan Waldo, a senior robotics student at Indian Land High, shows how his team’s robot is capable of moving and picking up blocks. JULIE GRAHAM

Engineering students from Indian Land High School made it to the semifinals at a competition that brought together the top robotic teams in the state.

Teams use electrical and mechanical engineering to construct a robot that lifts and moves blocks to score points in matches against other teams. The program is intended to increase student interest and involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It’s the coolest,” said John Marlette, 52, the math and engineering teacher who facilitates the engineering challenge at ILHS. “They are so engaged they don’t want to leave. They say, ‘What do you mean class is over?’”

All three teams at ILHS qualified for the state competition after racking up top honors at regionals a few weeks earlier at Nation Ford High. At the Palmetto State VRC on March 7 at Spring High School in Chapin, two of the Indian Land teams got to the semifinals, but didn’t advance from there.

The winning teams will compete in the world championships in Louisville, Ky., in April.

For Marlette, it’s a great finish for a program that is just in its second year.

“We had a good run and look forward to next year,” said Marlette, with the majority of his teams comprised of juniors.

At state, the teams met in the morning to tweak their engineering notebooks, programming and robots. Marlette estimates that each team has invested about 70 hours in planning, building, wiring, programming and doing all the steps over again when there is a problem.

“I give them the task and the tools. They figure out how to do things,” said Marlette, who has been teaching for 20 years. “They laugh at me because I don’t answer their questions. I make them figure out things on their own.”

It can be frustrating when a robot doesn’t move or a part breaks. When a crack was heard while practicing the day before state competition, there were groans – then a team huddle to repair the robot.

“They come in with quite a few skills. We refine the way they think and solve problems,” said Marlette. “What I tell them is, ‘You learn so much from your failures. You have to analyze your failures.’ They become more in tune with how to be successful.”

Team 8116B relies on joking with one another to relieve some of the stress. Students debate on a name for the robot, leaning towardCaroline.

“It’s taught us to be patient and be as prepared as possible,” said Logan Waldo, a senior who plans to major in mechanical engineering at the University of South Carolina. “If there is something that can go wrong, it will go wrong.”

Waldo is in charge of the engineering notebook for Team 8116B. Teammates Will Van Hoose and Caleb McClimen complete the construction while Alex Boggess is the programmer.

Five local professionals regularly come into the classroom to mentor the students, and winning strategies are learned along the way. Most of Marlette’s students enter college in the engineering field.

To Diego Munoz, 16, a junior, programming is cool. It is like learning a different language then breaking down that language into the simplest commands.

Munoz worked alongside Zach Bean and Chad Visoskis on the robot Dusty for Team 8116, which placed in the state semifinals. Incidentally, the robot has worn sawdust to competition after riding in the back of Bean’s father’s pick-up truck.

Anthony Dimalanta is the programmer for 8116C, the other ILHS team that lost in the semifinals. He is a soccer player who recently suffered a concussion, or so his teammates joke, when his remote commands in the engineering class are not being carried out precisely.

Shaking his head, he described programming a robot in terms that everyone can understand.

“It makes no sense,” he said.

Learn more:

Indian Land High Robotics Team rosters

Team 8116

Zach Bean

Chad Visoskis

Diego Munoz

Team 8116B

Alex Boggess

Caleb McClimen

Will Van Hoose

Logan Waldo

Team 8116C

Matthew Medlock

Garrett Gerdes

Anthony Dimalanta

Roscoe Lovejoy

Jacob Williams

Dylan Kensler