If he were the cliquish type, Walt 2.0 might hang with the jocks. The 120-pound robot can kick a soccer ball fifty feet into a goal, and thanks to his bumpers, he takes a bruising without blinking. Walt 2.0 proved so badass, in fact, his creators placed ninth in two competitions in which radio-controlled robots squared off against each other on the field.
“We spent six intensive weeks designing, building, and programming this robot,” says the team’s executive director, Tyler Durkota, “so it was gratifying the first time all of its lights came on, everything worked, and we made it do exactly what we wanted.”
The school’s support for robotics coalesced three years ago into a competitive team that has fared well against the estimated 4,000 teams worldwide. The students, eyes shielded with safety glasses as they cut metal with a saw, do much more than tinker, says adviser Brian Benton.
“It’s like an internship at Lockheed Martin,” he says, “because it involves pneumatic systems, electronics, computer programming, and assembling the same parts used in underwater rovers at manufacturing facilities. We’re talking about high-level engineering, not plastic toys.”
Like other real-world endeavors, robots cost money. “What we do is capital-intensive—it may cost $10,000—so we devise a business plan, recruit sponsors, and do community outreach,” says Durkota, a junior who plans eventually to work in computer programming.
Of the thirty-six team members, eight are girls. “We’re trying to recruit more girls, who are excellent with robotics because—and I’m generalizing here—they tend to be very detail-oriented,” he says.
Despite its techie allure, the field of robotics remains underpopulated, Durkota says. “We aim to change the perception. In other words, you don’t have to be a nerd to get excited about robots.”
Pictured from left: Tyler Durkota, David Beer, Andrew Eikhoff, Sean Eikhoff, and Paul Moskowitz / Photo by Christopher T. Martin