The Virginia Western Robotics Club team with the robot they entered in the 2017 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Southeast Conference hardware competition over the weekend. Team members are (from left) Andy VanOsten, Kevin Moyer, LBHS senior Caleb Beckner and Carson Farmer.

The Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) Robotics Club competition team, consisting of four local engineering students, placed 18th out of 51 teams at the 2017 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Southeast Conference hardware competition in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, April 1.

Caleb Beckner is a Lord Botetourt High School senior and one of the four team members. The other three also are high school students.

All are Regional Academy students at VWCC taking dual enrollment courses in the VWCC School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM).

The competition is an annual robotics challenge open to all engineering schools in the southeast including schools from Virginia. Participants included teams from N.C. State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, VCU, VMI and many others.

VWCC was the only community college represented.

A team from the University of Southern Indiana was the winner. Most teams consisted of juniors and seniors in mechanical, electrical or computer engineering.

The four team members from VWCC are Beckner, Carson Farmer, Kevin Moyer and Andy VanOsten.

The team was sponsored by the local section of IEEE (Virginia Mountain) and TMEIC, a local mechatronics firm.

The competition had a Star Wars theme and was titled Episode MMXVII.

The robot had to maneuver and complete four difficult tasks in under four minutes, earning points along the way.

Starting in late summer of 2016, the VWCC team put together a very competitive design. The team scored well in two of three rounds at the competition. On the final run, a critical component broke, limiting performance.

Beckner and Moyer did the mechanical design on the VWCC robot.VanOsten and Farmer did the electrical and program design.

VanOsten is a junior and  the other three are high school seniors.

Beckner is going to Princeton University in the fall, VanOsten will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute (leaving early to start), and  Farmer and Moyer will finish their Associates Degrees at VWCC then transfer to Virginia Tech.

“The VWCC robotics club was just amazing. If it wasn’t for two flaky issues, we would have been in the top 10 and maybe the top 5. We are very proud of how much they accomplished and learned over the last 8 months,” said George Studtmann, the team’s faculty advisor.

VWCC team captain Andy VanOsten felt that the competition was a great experience, saying, “Regardless of our final performance, this was an incredible opportunity to learn from many robotics engineering students from around the southeast. After focusing on our own design for almost a year, it was very interesting to see the results of so many other teams’ ideas.”

The Virginia Western robotics club was formed to help community college students learn advanced robotic skills that can be applied in engineering fields like mechatronics. The club plans to continue to fund and send teams to local and regional competitions.

The rules for the 2018 IEEE challenge in St. Petersburg, Fla. were announced the day after this year’s competition.

“The next day, the team came up with a list of good lessons learned. We have two students returning next year, and from what we learned in Charlotte, the next robot should be even better. That’s what engineering is all about: learning from your mistakes to make products better,” said Studtmann.

“This team has been innovative, creative, persistent and a total joy to watch,” Amy White said. White is Dean of STEM at VWCC. “This experience has allowed them to learn and practice soft skills as well as engineering strategies and techniques. 

“The School of STEM at VWCC is thrilled to support this type of student endeavor, and we strive to create an environment where students are comfortable stretching their boundaries to gain meaningful experiences.  We could not be more proud of them,” White added.