What is robotics?

According to Wikipedia, robotics deals with the design, construction, operation, and use of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. These technologies are used to develop machines that can substitute for humans and replicate human actions.

Melissa Lough has been teaching a robotics class at Ripley High School for the past two years.

What started as an after school club soon grew to be more demanding than students could handle with all of their other extra-curricular activities.

Since student interest in robotics was so overwhelming, Lough decided to go to the Ripley High School principal at the time, William Hosaflook, to question the possibility of turning the after school program into a credited class.

After deliberating with the Board of Education, Lough’s idea was supported and the class was offered as an elective with Lough as the instructor.

With funding from the community in the form of grants through Toyota and the Jackson County Community Foundation as well as donations from private individuals, robotics kits were purchased and the students began to build their robots from the ground up.

“What is great about this class is that these kids think they are just playing, even though they are actually learning,” Lough said.

The classroom is not set up like the typical classroom. There are tables and chairs, but there is also a field where the robots are tested and games are played.

Each year there is a different game or goal for the students to use their robots to master.

Not only do students build the robots, they also use them to compete as a team with other schools.

A team must have for any competition, is a team jersey. The Ripley High Robotics team chose Hawaiian shirts for their team jerseys. They even had “Robotics” embroidered on the pocket of each shirt. There are a total of three colors; blue, yellow, and multi-colored, but all Hawaiian style.

The first team of the Robotics class built three robots, coded the controllers, and competed against other schools throughout the state of West Virginia.

“I enjoy competition, these are like real life video games,” Robotics team member Chris DeFrank said. “My favorite part is driving the controller.”

Competitions are on Saturdays and last the entire day. As in any other team activity, there is a chance to go to a state tournament and even on to a world tournament.

In order to attend a state competition, a team must qualify.

Ripley qualified for the state competition in both 2018 and 2019.

“To me it’s all about the camaraderie,” Robotics team member Matt Bowlby said. “We get to build, compete, and win together as a team.”

State tournaments consist of teams from several schools around the state. All schools have the same goal in mind, to make it to Worlds.

WV had four spots to fill in 2019. Three spots went to high schools and one went to a middle school team. Ripley High’s Robotics team was selected in 2018 and 2019.

Team member included Michael Lough, Easton Perry, Matt Bowlby, Chris DeFrank, Josh Conrad, Chance Jewell, Clayton Baldwin, Caleb Braley, and Jarrett Lough.

The Ripley High Robotics team also won the VEX Robotics Excellence Award this year. The Excellence Award is the highest award presented in the VEX Robotics Competition. This award is presented to a team that exemplifies overall excellence in creating a high quality VEX Robotics program.

With an excellence award and their second State Championship in a row, the Ripley High Robotics team is excited to once again travel to Kentucky, April 24-27 to compete in Worlds.

With an opening ceremony similar to that of the Olympics, Worlds is a competition where over 500 groups participate from over 40 different countries around the world.

“Blaine Hess and the BOE have been a tremendous support to this class and these kids,” Lough said. “It is nice to have the backing of the school and the community, without them these students may not ever have these types of opportunities.”

Since the Robotics class began two years ago, it has already grown large enough to offer two classes, coding and mechanics.

Students from the coding class recently participated in a contest titled The West Virginia History Minecraft Design & Build Contest. It required students to recreate a scene from WV History using Minecraft Education Edition software.

Four gentlemen from the coding class participated in this contest and created a Minecraft Design that focused on the collapse of the Silver Bridge and the Mothman Prophecies both located in Point Pleasant.

Team members for the Minecraft Challenge were Andrew Putnam, Logan Evans, Lincoln Cottrell, and Gabe Haynes. Their project landed them third place honors.

“The kids that usually take these classes have played video games all their lives,” Lough said. “They know how to use the controllers and code programs because of video games. This just shows that video gaming is not all bad.”