Robotics event teaches students importance of ‘trial’ in ‘trial and error’

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Robots.

You probably have an image in your head already. Saturday, hundreds of students from Pennsylvania and surrounding states set out to prove there’s more than meets the mind’s eye.

Trial and error. And trial. And error.

There were plenty of both at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, a group that runs robotics competitions nationwide) Tech Challenge South Central PA Qualifying Tournament over the weekend.

The trial is the important part.

“When you get a challenge and you have to build the sort of mechanisms, you kind of have to visualize it,” said Victor Contreras, 18.

Contreras has worked on the robotics team at SciTech High since he was a freshman. “And I saw kids working on these robots, and I just thought it was really cool.”

Now he’s a senior and passing on what he’s learned.

“Pretty much all of us know how to put a few screws together, but that fact that you know how to program is very important,” he said to a younger teammate as they worked on their small robot.

That’s how it works at competitions. A total of 35 teams came to Harrisburg High School to compete in the tournament.

SciTech sent two teams. Peng Lu, 15, is part of the crew that spent the day working on their robots. He wants to be a rocket scientist (literally) and plans to use what he learns from working with the robotics group.

“I really like how the different parts work together to form one robot,” he said.

Every team designs their machines to complete challenges. This year, the robots clean up debris (blocks and wiffle balls) and try to climb a ladder-type structure.

There are inevitably errors.

Despite working tirelessly before the competition started to ensure a servo motor would work properly, Contreras noticed it stopped functioning in their first round in the arena.

They require new trials. This time, more electrical tape to wrap up wiring. And more errors. The motor malfunctioned once again in the second heat.

The lesson, served again and again to teams across the country, is to always have another trial in you.

“It is so nerve-wracking,” Contreras said in the short period between rounds to fix any problems. “But what you have to do is stay calm and just do what you have to do very quickly. Try not to waste time.”

Just as he finished saying that, a teammate approached, telling him it was time to queue up for another heat.

“Already?” he said. “See? Let’s go. I wanted a sip of water, but, I guess, next time.”

Such is life.

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