CHS robotics program develops future engineers


CIRCLEVILLE — In only its second year in existence, the Circleville High School Robotics Program has made its mark on the national stage. Students recently competed in the National Robotics Challenge held in Marion, Ohio, where they went up against 32 teams from eight different states. One of those teams, made up of seniors Vincent Ridings and Jared Utt, took first place in the computer programming challenge.

“They blew out the competition,” said engineering instructor Joshua Thomas, who has a degree in technology and engineering education from OSU. “The judges actually had to verify that they weren’t in college. It was impressive.”

For their challenge, Ridings and Utt were given a task sheet, a box of parts, and four hours to create a computer that could take commands over the internet. Ridings said he handled the hardware side, while Utt took care of software.

Circleville High School entered six other events that required them to design, build and program robots ahead of the event. They took fifth place in the autonomous lightweight sumo division, and 8th out of 32 teams in heavyweight.

Ryan Davis and Blake Spiller made up the heavyweight team for what could be best described as a sophisticated version of “Battle Bots;” Their design was required to be under 125 pounds and had to push another robot out of the ring using remote control.

“We make the kids do everything from the ground up,” Thomas said. “They start out with a concept and model it on CAD software, they plan everything out, and then we buy the steel, cut it, and they do all of the mechanical engineering involved.”

Davis and Spiller decided that a 20.8 degree wedge at the front of their bot would be most effective. Spiller said they originally wanted to create tank tracks for mobility, but changed their minds after performing a risk assessment, and decided to go with six wheels instead.

“It’s completely different from anything I’ve done in high school,” Davis said. “Getting to go there and being around a lot of other students that are interested in STEM programs; they all think like you and they all bounce ideas off of each other, so you learn so much.”

The CHS Robotics Program is funded with a three-year grant from the Circleville City Schools Foundation. Thomas said the hands-on program is meant to prepare his students for all fields of engineering: mechanical, electrical, computer science, and chemical.

“I want them to go to college and have that skill set that separates them from everybody else in engineering. These guys know how to torque on a wrench, they know the difference between an M6 and an M4 bolt. It’s a skill set that a lot of engineers don’t get even throughout college,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that the Robotics Program is developing rapidly and will expand into the middle school next year. As for the national competitors, each one said he plans to study engineering in college.

“I wouldn’t be going into engineering if it weren’t for the program,” Jared Utt said.