Murphy the robot has represented its school well.
The one-armed, wheeled machine is the creation of Charlotte Christian School’s new robotics club, which began entering robot competitions for the first time this year.
The 14-member team has been surprised by Murphy’s success, which has included placing eighth in the state and qualifying for a national competition.
“It was amazing,” student Stephen Dillon said of the team’s success at 2015 North Carolina VEX Robotics State Championship on March 7. “I didn’t think we would ever get this far.”
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On April 1, Murphy was packed into a box and sent to Iowa. Several Charlotte Christian RoboKnights team members will follow for the CREATE U.S. Open Robotics Championship in Council Bluffs, Iowa, set for April 7-9.
The RoboKnights club was the idea of junior Thomas Barnes, who leads the team. His father works in software development, and Barnes said he’s always had a love of technology.
Barnes pulled together some friends and started the club with the help of upper-school physics teacher Steve Hasselberg. The club spent a year learning programming and other skills needed to build a robot.
In August, they began working on Murphy, named because “anything that can fall off will fall off,” Hasselberg said.
The team worked until December to design and build Murphy so it would perform the tasks required in 2015 robot competitions.
This year, the VEX Skyrise game requires robots to build towers and pick up and drop open-sided cubes onto them. A one-on-one match lasts two minutes, and robots score more points for higher-difficulty skills, such as dropping a cube on a high tower.
While some teams score points by having the robot perform many low-point tasks, Murphy and its driver, student Sean Gallagher, immediately go for high-point tasks.
“Sean has practiced enough that the (highest-scoring tasks) are easiest for him,” Barnes said.
Building a competition-ready robot requires a number of skills. Some students program the robot and its remote control, while others build and maintain it.
Murphy is built on a small platform with six wheels and has an extendable arm ending in a claw. The robot is driven by 10 motors, the most allowed in competition.
Hasselberg said Murphy’s strength is its agility, as the robot can make tight turns.
The team has learned how to improve Murphy along the way as it has competed in regional, then state competitions.
Dillon said the team was dismayed when Murphy died in the middle of a match in an early qualifying tournament. A few tournaments later, however, the RoboKnights came home with a regional tournament win and a trophy for overall excellence.
Team members say they are thrilled Murphy has been competitive against robots from more established teams, and hope it will hold its own in Iowa.
“I’ll be happy as long as we’re in the top half,” Barnes said.
Barnes attributes the team’s success to the intelligence of its members, the teamwork that has come naturally from existing friendships and the support the club has received from the school.
If they do well in Iowa, the celebration likely will be low-key. Barnes said that after a previous unexpected victory, the team had dinner at Chili’s and went home to bed.
“It was more of an internal celebration than external,” he said, smiling.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.