The M’Aiken Magic robotics team, based at Aiken High School, will introduce its Big ‘Bot at a regional competition at Myrtle Beach, beginning Feb. 28.
Everybody has at least tried to throw a Frisbee before, but you’ve probably never seen a robot try its “hand” at sailing flying discs into rectangular slots on a 27-by-54-foot glassed-in field.
That’s just one factor in the contest, developed and administered internationally through the FIRST Robotics Competition.
M’Aiken Magic also includes students from South Aiken High and often other schools over the last 10 years.
Philip Barkhau participated with the team for four years, before graduating from Aiken High in 2007. He has since completed undergraduate and graduate degrees and, last summer, returned to Aiken High as a teacher and the team coach.
Every year, FIRST Robotics creates a new game that requires teams to build their own robot.
“This game has a different complexity that seems to have increased,” Barkhau said. “They (FIRST Robotics) really like to push the envelope.”
M’Aiken Magic also has three smaller ‘Bot vehicles for another division called the Tech Challenge.
Three squads have built their smaller models; they were supposed to compete in a state match in Orangeburg this weekend, but the event was postponed until next month.
The Big ‘Bot team members and their mentors had to almost completely finish up Saturday, because their robot will have to be shipped to Myrtle Beach today and then stored until the contest.
Sophomores Brady O’Leary and Amanda Stegen were among those working on the ‘Bot during the final construction phase.
“I’m more comfortable in my second year,” O’Leary said. “Everything is exciting, as there’s a new challenge every year. It’s really amazing.”
Stegen is actually an “old” hand at M’Aiken Magic. Her dad, Rich Stegen, has been a mentor since 2007, and Amanda started tagging along with him as a fifth-grader.
“I like being a part of it now and talking to my dad about it,” she said.
Her dad called Amanda an honorary member previously, and he’s pleased that she has a formal role now.
“I enjoy working with the kids and watching them learn,” Stegen said. “It gives them an experience they can take into later life.”
M’Aiken Magic will participate in the first-round as a member of a changing three-team alliance going against three other teams.
Essentially, they’ve had to create a robot that can “toss” the discs and get more points by sailing higher-level slots.
Shooting a disc is very simple in principle, but it’s was challenging to get the ‘Bot shooting reliably at the same or alternate height every time, said John Fogarty, a 2012 Aiken graduate and USC Aiken freshman serving as a mentor.
Sophomores Nathan Witepsky and Reece Boatwright are focusing on the GForce Tech Challenge competition.
“It’s been a blast,” Witepsky said. “It’s fun and a thrill to do this and get this type of experience for the future.”