Students Hone Skills With Robotics

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PALMER – Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School had great success in its first robotics competition last spring and during this academic year the school will not only compete but also host the Massachusetts regional tournament.

It means a lot of work for electronics technology teacher Eric A. Duda, but he is up for it.

“The educational value of this is great,” Duda said.
He is not only teaching and guiding the students in this program, he is watching them do work at a level that he was involved with as an electrical engineering student at Western New England College.

“It’s amazing,” Duda said. “They design something. They build it. They test it. They record all of their results.”

School teams all over the world compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge Championship by building a robot that meets required specifications and can perform a designated task.

The 2008 contest calls for a robot that can pick up rings that are 3 inches in diameter and put as many of them as possible on a pole while racing the clock.

While Duda’s students find it fun and exciting, their work also fits into the state’s curriculum frameworks for electronics technology.

“It takes a lot of math skills and a real scientific approach. They do a lot of computer programming,” Duda said. “This covers a real wide range and ties everything together.”

“They are doing a great job,” he said.

Michael C. Veitenheimer, an 18-year-old senior from Granby, was the head programmer on the Pathfinder team that won an award for the most innovative robot last spring, and this year he is involved in programming and helping to teach his peers.

“It is a huge team effort. It takes everybody helping with different views,” Veitenheimer said. “We brainstorm a lot. There are a lot of failed attempts.”

Duda formed the team when he arrived at Pathfinder in September 2006.

Pathfinder will host the Massachusetts regional tournament March 1, 2008. It is drawing teams from throughout New England and a few from Canada.

Duda and others at Pathfinder are trying to attract sponsors to cover the costs of running the team and hosting the one-day event.


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