Tinkering boosts robot into competitive position

Elgin Courier-News

A robot nicknamed ZEFR worked just the way it was supposed to until it didn't, forcing its St. Charles student builders and operators to figure out what went wrong during a state robotics competition.

Andrew Kein, Camden Williams and Justin Suess, with the help of their coach, Dan Kein, worked on the electrical problems of Ziptal Enhanced Frankenstein Robot, eventually making it into third place at the end of the championships for middle and high school students Saturday at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia.

"Our cortex is being weird and we are losing the connection," Williams said. "What we are going to do is change the entire cortex and download all the stuff again."

His mom, Terri Williams, put the troubleshooting into perspective.

"You have to be able to build it and fix it too," said Williams, also a volunteer. "The coach is a mentor, but the kids have to figure out what went wrong."

The three students of PWNAGE VEX Team A are from a nonprofit robotics club for youth based out of Genesis Automation Inc. in St. Charles. PWNAGE, which means to rule or dominate, has members from communities throughout the Fox Valley area and is open to middle school and high school students.

The VEX Robotics Competition has more than 10,000 teams from 32 countries playing in over 750 tournaments, according to the club's website.

PWNAGE VEX had two teams at Saturday's competition, and in addition to qualifying for the state championships, they will compete in the U.S. Open in April, Williams said.

Kein, Williams, Suess and another member, Sadie Johnson, designed and built the VEX robot to compete in game-based engineering challenges. It won a judge's award at one competition for a "strong combination of ingenuity and innovation," Terri Williams said.

"We had an old robot that was really bad, it only shot the low bowl. This one is more consistent," Kein said. It uses a mechanical shooter which does not need to rev up like the old one, he said.

Camden Williams joined PWNAGE VEX a year ago. He has always been interested in building things, starting with Legos, his mom said, adding that she finds it "amazing to watch these kids' minds working."

Camden Williams, 13, wants to be some sort of engineer or an astronaut when he grows up.

"This has helped me a lot to learn about things like physics," he said.

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter.

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