In a school gym filled with loud cheers and brains wired for engineering, members of the Brownsburg High School Robotics Team (or Team 3176 Purple Precision) huddle around a robot named Project X.
The 8-foot, 150-pound (with batteries) machine comprised of mostly welded aluminum tubing and 3-D plastics is programmed to pick up and deliver “cargo” (dodgeballs, actually) to 11-foot rocket ships across the gymnasium. The challenge is called Destination Deep Space. The moment is big.
“The environment at a robotics competition is part sports competition, part rock concert, and part Comic-con,” explains an enthusiastic Jon Miller, a Brownsburg High School senior and the chief engineer of Purple Precision.
The club of around 50 students is a student-led non-profit that’s part of a bigger organization called F.I.R.S.T. (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) that releases the same challenge to robotics students across the country for competitions. They get six weeks to design, construct and test the robots.
“Obviously it is very fun to go to competitions and compete against the other teams, but my most memorable moments occur back in the shop during our build season,” Miller, who oversees the robot’s creation from sketch to finish, said.
Miller, who spends a good chunk of his time on the computer, says F.I.R.S.T. program allows robotics students to work with engineering mentors from companies like Rolls Royce.
“To me, sitting down with professional engineers while I work on these various physics and engineering calculations is a lot like an aspiring basketball player shooting free throws with Michael Jordan,” he said.
The high school senior who has plans to study aerospace at Purdue University caught the bug for building early on.
“I’ve always been into LEGOs. I’ve always built things. I asked my parents ever since I was 7 or 8 to have a little corner in the basement to have my workshop,” recalls Miller, who joined the robotics club in sixth grade.
On May 11, Purple Precision will host a F.I.R.S.T open house at Brownsburg West Middle School. Their goal is to not only showcase the robotics world but to promote STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education.
“This is a day where our team is really trying to show our community that yes we make robots but it’s really about so much more,” Miller said.
At the event, they will replicate a real robotics competition with a group of West Middle school robotics club students who’ve been tasked with building their own robots for the last six months.
“They’ve designed robots for a game we’ve created for them,” explains Purple Precision member and Brownsburg High School senior Harrison McCarty. “We’ve been mentoring the students throughout the season, so we’ve taken the knowledge we’ve gained working in our own robotics club and doing our own challenges from F.I.R.S.T.”
Armed with goggles, extra batteries, and wire clippers, the students will each have a station – or the pits as they call them – where they will be fixing and showcasing their robots in between matches.
“The West Middle School students are just so much fun,” said Miller. “It sounds weird, but I see me in them. I remember back when I was in middle school and I didn’t have the engineering knowledge that I do now and it’s really fun to be able to pass that on to them.”
Visitors can ask questions, participate in activities and check out robots and the 3-D printer.
If you go:
West Middle School gym
1555 S. Odell St
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.