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Next Stop World Finals for ATU Robotics Team

ATU VEX U Robotics Team 2019-20Image of ATU VEX U Robotics Team 2019-20

Arkansas Tech University will be among approximately 90 higher education institutions from around the globe that will compete in the 2020 VEX U Robotics World Championship April 22-25 in Louisville, Ky.

A team of 11 ATU students punched their ticket to the world championship by winning the overall excellence award at a qualifying tournament hosted by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Dec. 7.

The process started at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester by identifying team members, many of whom came from ATU’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) registered student organization.

Jacob Weidenfeller, ATU instructor of electrical engineering and lab director, serves as the team’s advisor. This is the second year he has worked to assemble a team and the first year an ATU team has participated in VEX U robotics competitions.

“The team members sat down the first couple of weeks and started working out designs and strategy,” said Weidenfeller. “We are competing against another team, and they can go on offense or defense, so we need to design our robots in such a way that if the other team decides to try to knock cubes off our robot, we can circumvent that.”

With the planning phase complete, the ATU team went about the process of building its robots and constructing a raised practice robot field in its Corley Hall laboratory. The field is similar to the one the group will encounter at the world championship.

Additional on-campus resources available to the ATU robotics team include 3D printers, computer numerical control (CNC) machines, a manual mill and a plasma cutter, all of which help maximize the educational experience.

“We are allowed to fabricate our own components, unlike high school and middle school VEX robotics,” said Weidenfeller. “I’m really trying to push for the students to design things in CAD (computer-aided design) and do some simulations with those. Then, once everything looks good in software, we can fabricate things rather than relying on the pre-fabricated components that VEX sells. We can make custom parts that do a specific function way more efficiently than putting a bunch of standard parts together.”

Arkansas Tech VEX U robotics team members include Waleska Chacon of Russellville, Anna Coleman of Monticello, Thomas Dodds of Little Rock, Ryan Dow of Russellville, Mary Greer of Lonoke, Ivan Hernandez of Russellville, Jonathan Khamphiphone of Danville, Michael O’Connor of Russellville, Kaylin Parker of Star City, Paul Reamon of Fox and Isaac Steffy of Russellville.

Team members said that Sarah Burnett, director of the ATU STEM Education Collaborative, has also been integral in helping them achieve their goals.

“It’s a lot of hard work and hours that went into it,” said Weidenfeller. “In the end, it was well worth it. This is an extremely hard-working group. At the beginning, they were all shy. They didn’t know how to communicate with each other, but now it’s a fun atmosphere. We’re all making jokes and having a great time.

“I want more students like these,” continued Weidenfeller. “We have two high school students from Bryant and eight from Russellville who will be coming here in fall 2020 to join our team. This is a very good recruitment tool, so if I can show students we have a really good VEX program, high school students who are involved in VEX are going to see that and want to come here to join the team.”

Call (479) 964-0877 or send e-mail to jweidenfeller@atu.edu for more information about ATU’s VEX U robotics team.