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Budding Robotniks

By Staff | Apr 17, 2017

Engineers, gearheads and robotics entusiests from around the four-state gathered Saturday for the Shepherd University ShepRobo Fest at the Butcher Center in Shepherdstown.

“We’ve got Stony Brook, we have Pennsylvania State, we have general local clubs and we have Harvard,” said Spencer Little, Robotics Club president at Shepherd University.

ShepRobo Fest, which is supported by KRM Associates, Inc. and DMI Mobile Enterprise Solutions, featured competition in fire fighting, mech warfare, sumo robot match and FIRST Lego League. Participants included teams from various Berkeley County schools, 4-H clubs, Penn State University and Stoney Brook University.

Future engineers huddled around laptops and spare parts making last minute adjustments.

“It’s not what you win, it’s what you learn,” said Hedgesville Middle School science teacher Jesse Butcher.

Although it is a competition, the event is a chance for students to see and learn from others. They watched closely what others had built and how it was built.

“They learn how to code robots, they learn how to build. They also learn a lot of social skills – how to work together as a team, how to handle stress and competition. They learn when something doesn’t go right how to handle it,” Butcher said.

Shepherd University sophomore Daniel Watson was joined by his wife at the ShepRobo Fest.

“This is an autonomous firefighter robot and this is totally built from scratch,” Watson said as he displayed a robot built from spare and found parts that would compete in a contest to extinguish a fire.

Parents and grandparents sat in the stands and watched the competitions on a large screen. Hedgesville Middle School student Mac Blackman’s mother watched as he worked with his teammates.

“He really has always been into Legos and building things. This is right up his alley. The robotics part of it. Programming (however) that’s all new to him, but he has been learning how to do that after school. He has has always known he wants to go into some type of career in engineering,” Kim Blackman said.

Stony Brook University student Randy Paquette explained how much dedication goes into robotics.

“Two hours a week and then we go five hours on Fridays from 4 to 9 p.m., and then on Saturday we go from noon to 5 p.m. – usually longer than that,” Paquette said.

KRM’s Principal Architect Christopher Edwards was on hand to share what work they do and to see what the students have created.

“It’s a good outreach, especially for young kids. Some of the outreach is about getting (the students) involved,” Edwards said.

The RoboFest also allowed Edwards to show students they could find a local job after graduation.

“Most people are like, ‘I’m going to get a job in D.C.’ You can still use your computer science skills and everything you learn here and still work for a local company. We’re based right here in Shepherdstown,” Edwards said.

According to Edwards, technology is changing faster than ever before. One new discovery leads new companies into uncharted territories.

“We are barely scratching the surface. We’re going to come up with new things every day,” Edwards said.

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Staff writer Jeff McCoy can be reached at jmccoy@journal-news.net.