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In The Classroom:

A robotic arm up into the future

Teacher, professor spark students’ interest in robotics after seeing decline in department’s enrollment.

April 15, 2008|By Daniel Tedford

Charlotte Zaremba wasn’t exactly a kid in a candy shop when she walked into her first robotics workshop at OCC, but when she saw all the toys for building robots and thought of the applications they held for teaching her students, she lit up.

“The teachers at the workshop acted as if they had been waiting all year for this,” Zaremba said. “I thought ‘I can’t say no to this.’”

Zaremba is a teacher at the Orange Coast Middle College High School, a small school located on OCC’s campus for high school juniors and seniors concurrently enrolled in college classes.

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After she visited that workshop in November 2007, she got rolling on creating a robotics team at the school. By February she had her team, and by the end of March, the team, The Wom-Bots, had participated in its first competition.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” said student Eric Engle. “But it sounded really interesting.”

Interesting turned into something of an addiction for the students involved. This year’s challenge, given out by sponsor VEX Robotics, is called “Bridge Battle.” The team’s mission was to build a robot no bigger than 18 inches all around that could pick up tennis balls and place them on a bridge standing 15 inches off the ground.

“You’re basically building something that runs, you can look at and be proud of,” said 17-year-old student David Wang.

The students needed about 30 working hours building their robots with a kit provided to them at the robotics lab at OCC — the cost of which is about $500.

Engle’s robot scoops the tennis ball onto a small platform that is then lifted by a chain system which swings around at the top to place the balls on the bridge. Other robots work together in what is called an alliance where one robot may pick up the balls while the other is used to place them.

The students, who don’t have the facilities at Middle College use OCC’s lab next door when they have time at the allowance of OCC robotics professor Robert Castano.

“Robots are all around us,” Castano said. “No two robots [the students built] are the same.”

But the people who build them may not be around for long. Castano helped start Zaremba’s program in part because the school, and other robotics organizations, have seen declining enrollment in recent years for its robotics programs and he wants to help reaffiliate students with an educational activity he believes is beneficial and engaging.

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