(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Jamie Joy, daughter of Ron Maurer, A-Tech Machinist’s coach and advisor)
I well remember the day. “Fighting robots?” I guess I had envisioned a tower of blocks with arms and legs throwing punches; I was skeptical at best. However, my dad had a completely different vision in mind. He’d just come home after visiting a National Robotics League competition. He imagined leading a group of young men and women, the next generation to enter the machining industry in which he’d spent his career, to construct from scratch a robotically engineered machine to face competitors with a high-speed, hardened tool-steel weapon. Though I wanted to be supportive, I can’t say I fully understood. That is until that first day of competition. It didn’t take long for myself, as well as the rest of our family, to realize the vision in which my father had spent countless hours striving. Even my two-year-old, at the time, came home battling his graham cracker halves against each other. We’d all caught the fever. Yet, behind the sound of grinding steel and robots sent flying through the air in three minute rounds, has always been the educational component.
Most schools are not fortunate enough to use classroom time to brainstorm, build and perfect their robots. However, A-Tech students, who are training to go into the machining industry after graduation, get the full spectrum of education from conception to final build, from battle to battle. They learn to meld ideas, strategies and concepts to create a robot that will withstand their competitors’ attacks. Throughout the school-year-long process, the students are hands on, machining raw material into each specific component of the robot’s assembly — weapon, axles, wheels, frame rails, base plates, etc. In addition to the parts it takes to assemble one robot, they compile enough for three complete machines, in the event that damage caused to the robot will call for a replacement component the day of the battle. Then the robot is assembled and analyzed on weapon speed, belt tightness, weight limits, drive control, etc. with adjustments made as needed. Finally, through a timed obstacle course, the drivers are selected, final tweaks made and the robot declared battle ready. With the investment of their time comes each student’s goal: Defeat the opposition, which makes success sweeter when it comes.
This year, A-Tech did just that, coming out on top for a second consecutive year at Lakeland Community College in the AWT RoboBots competition where they took home the first-place trophy from 25 opposing teams. This time, however, with the bragging rights of going undefeated throughout the day. At the National Robotics League competition in California, Pa., through a double-elimination bracket, the A-Tech Machinists tied for 13th place out of 64 teams. It was another great year of competition for not only the fans not only in the stands, but also those watching the live broadcast from home.
Though, if you asked my dad, his greatest achievement wasn’t another trophy. It was the opportunity to instill in the next generation lessons in both the machining industry and in life, through a hunk of metal. In fact, 10 financial sponsors have backed that mission to be a part of the change in Ashtabula County: to teach through experience and personal investment the value of hard work. The hum of the weapon, sparks flying on contact, curling metal, bots rendered useless then reconstructed are just the surface. Behind all of it, is a draw for students to realize the necessity of the machining industry as they gain the skills to succeed within it. This year I brought home two excited kiddos who took foam building blocks, constructed their own “robots” with unique names and battled them against each other in makeshift rounds. I may be a little biased, but I’m so thankful that my dad had the foresight to see this thing through and the momentum from year to year to keep pushing his students to greater heights. It isn’t just the students who are all the better for it.