Growing up watching movies like “Star Wars” helped inspire a few members of Team Duct Tape.
The robotics team is made up of teens from Land O’ Lakes, Odessa and Lutz and is coached by Terri Willingham. Members have competed in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science) Tech Challenge for three years now with Willingham coaching them along the way.
The team will head to the Florida state championships in Daytona Feb. 12. If things go well, they will advance to the world championships in St. Louis in April.
Through FIRST teams have to build a robot to complete specific tasks in a competition. Those tasks change yearly. This year, the robot has to pick up batons and place them in a container. The robot also has other obstacles to overcome on the field.
“It is a very complicated game, the robot has to be able to manipulate several things,” Willingham said.
To start the program, teams must first purchase the robot kit for $1,000. The kit comes with everything the team will need to build its first basic robot and it can be reused from year to year.
While building the robot, teams must keep track of everything they are doing in a notebook.
“It shows what materials they used and it documents what they have done,” Willingham said. “There are drawings and it shows what they have learned from finding the solutions to problems.”
In addition to building the robot, the team also has to use the computer programming language Robot C, which is similar to C. During the autonomous segment of the competition the team has to program the robot to complete a series of actions on its own.
After that the team has to drive the robot through the obstacle course. Chris Willingham, 18, works the arm and Chris Kujawa, 16, is the driver of the robot. Chris Willingham is from Odessa and he is home-schooled. Kujawa is from Lutz and is home-schooled.
“We have to program the controller,” Chris Willingham said. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for the driver at the competition. There are 18 different functions so there is a lot that can go wrong.”
Kujawa joined the team because he wanted to build robots, but he has also learned a lot more.
“I wanted to have a R2-D2,” Kujawa said. “For Christmas, I got a robot kit. I started making robots that could talk to me when I was 12. I have learned a lot about programming. I was able to program some of the autonomous functions. It has also made me a better writer.”
Chris Willingham said the experience has been great for him. He plans to continue to learn about robotics and computers in college.
Kujawa said he would love to go into robotics and work for NASA, but he has to see what is happening with technology once he graduates.
Even though both Kujawa and Willingham have decided on technology for a career, Dina Kujawa said not everyone on the team is going to do the same thing.
“This team is not just for people who are engineering geniuses,” Dina Kujawa said. “There are people on the team who are not going into science or technological careers. This program has such a well-rounded affect on the kids.”
Willingham said she has noticed positive differences in her son since joining the team.
“I have noticed Chris’ level of confidence has gone up,” Terri Willingham said. “He has a better idea of what he can do with his life. Also his technological skills have improved and expanded.”
Joel Croteau, a junior at Sunlake High School, said he is on the team because he likes the challenge and the experience.
“I am more of a social person,” Croteau said. “I like to cook. I have been working for my mom at The Breakfast Nook for years. I bring those skills to the team. I know how to deal with people.”
Croteau is the public relations and human relations person for the group.
“I settle disputes within the team,” Croteau said. “Being on the team has matured me a lot and given me patience. I have learned that the easiest road to take is not always the best. There are a lot of real world applications for what we are learning.”
In addition to building a robot, team members are also required to complete community service hours. Team members have hosted camps at places like the YMCA and they did fundraisers for organizations like UNICEF.
Mentors for the team are also very important. Team Duct Tape is currently looking for more mentors who can help the teens with technological experience and programming. The team also needs donations, corporate sponsorships and grants.
“We could always use donations,” Terri Willingham said. “We have to buy new parts for the robots whey they wear out. We also need mentors to help teach things like programming or engineering. Everybody that has helped us is helping more than they know. We want the community to get behind us.”
Terri Willingham said she wants to see more robotics teams in the surrounding communities.
“We are trying to show how you can do this on the community level,” Willingham said. “We want to make it as accessible as community sports are. We would like to see it celebrated the same way. This is an affordable program for any school.”
The team will be at the Engineering Expo at the University of South Florida Feb. 19 where it will conduct live demonstrations along with other robotics teams in the area.
For more information about FIRST, visit usfirst.org.
For more information about the team, visit TeamDuctTape.com.