Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - July 4, 2008

Battle of the AVBotz

Amador Valley's robotics team prepares for college-level competition

by Emily Atwood

While school is out for most, the Amador Valley High School Robotics Club, called the AVBotz, is hard at work in a garage on Foxbrough Place. The makeshift submarine building lab is where they are preparing for their biggest competition of the year: the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's (AUVSI) autonomous underwater vehicle competition. The team is the only high school group participating, facing the likes of Cornell, University of Rhode Island and the reigning champions for the last two years, the University of Florida.

The Amador club was founded by students in 1999 and has competed in AUVSI since 2000. Now with about 20 members in three sub-teams--mechanical, electrical and software--this year's team must develop a self-governing underwater submarine that is able to complete an obstacle course.

Connie Sun, a recent Amador graduate and the club's president, said it's challenging having to compete with college teams, especially when it comes to time and budget.

"[Our college competitors] usually have a course that students can take to work on the [submarine] throughout the year," Sun said. "Most of us are juniors and seniors so we're very busy with AP classes. We meet on the weekends to work on some designs. Most of our work is actually done in the summer."

While they plan to meet for a few hours three to four times a week over the next couple weeks, when it gets closer to competition time, they plan to meet for six to eight hours every day.

When the team first competed at AUVSI in 2000, many of the judges didn't believe the work was entirely student produced, and that parents had helped.

"But during the static judging--like a presentation--they started to believe," Sun said.

By now they are used to the attention they receive at AUVSI.

"The judges and other teams say it's really unbelievable that we can do this," she added. "A lot of college students say they wish they had the same kind of opportunities in high school."

A year later, the AVBotz placed second to MIT. In that same year, Monte Vista High School in Danville competed and placed 10th. No other high school has challenged Amador since. While the AVBotz haven't earned high rankings in recent years, they have high hopes for this year.

"We're hoping for better placement than in the past two years," Sun said. "We're trying to get into the final round."

Most colleges also have many sponsors, while the club has one sponsor and also must seek out private donations. One donation from a parent of a past club member allowed them to buy an engine for this year's sub, which will enable it to be more efficient.

Each year, the subs change as newer technology develops.

"You wouldn't be able to recognize this year's sub from two years ago," Sun said, adding that it is now about half the size. "Technology develops really quickly these days and we try to keep up with more miniature parts to make it more efficient and less weight."

This year's model includes the Seabotix engine and they are using a new programming language that they hope will be more responsive when they maneuver it through the obstacle course.

The competition takes place from July 29 through Aug. 4 in San Diego. The bulk of the competition is done in the murky water obstacle course, where tasks include dropping markers into the "blackjack table," dock in the "slot machine" and finally descend and surface with a plastic pipe structure--all within 15 minutes.

In the past, Murphy's Law has been proved at inopportune times, as they often can't test the sub underwater prior to traveling to San Diego. Efficient time management would allow the group to test the Pleasanton waters and rectify any problems.

To learn more about the AVBotz, visit their website at www.avbotz.net.

Comments

Posted by Kevin C, a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm

The new AVBotz website is Web Link
(we no longer have access to avbotz.net)


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