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Corbin students build space-age rovers

The Corbin School System may be known for the football and basketball teams it fields but 10 students from Corbin Intermediate School showed they can hang in there with teams from across the state when it comes to designing and operating "Mars" rovers.

After a day of competition at the school Thursday, the two teams, "The Doominators," and "Platypus 5," earned the right to go to the state competition in Lexington by beating out five other teams in a double elimination tournament.

"It was pretty neat," said Josh Mills, one of the members of the Platypus 5 team, said of the experience at the state competition.

Both teams made it to the "Sweet 16," in the tournament that began with 56 teams.

Working together, the teams comprised of a driver and assistant driver, spotter, camera operator and mechanic, sent their respective rovers into the ring against another rover with the goal of collecting as many ping pong balls as possible in a two-minute period.

Dwalenna Stepp, another member of the Platypus 5 team, said the hardest part was adjusting to different jobs that were thrust upon team members at the last minute. During the school competition, the team members had prepared for specific jobs. However, at the state competition, the team members drew slips to see which job they would perform during each match.

Even with that surprise, the Platypus 5, which also included Kris Stansberry, Kaibry Ball and Destiny Zelenka, posted the highest scoring game of the competition, picking up 70 points worth of ping pong balls.

The team members said they hope they will get to participate again next year and if they do will take some lessons into that, including practicing to do every job on the team and looking at different designs options besides the scoop.

The rovers, which had been designed by the team, were made of cardboard. The parts were "manufactured" by students in the engineering classes at Corbin High School but assembled by the team members.

"Some of the teams have been working on this since January," said Jimmy Hendrickson, one of three teachers whose students were participating.

The rovers used a series of remote controlled servos to move and to pick up the balls. Teams were limited to six servos which they could allocate as they wished.

The Doominators' team, made up of Matthew Laun, Christian Anderson, Noah Hoppel, Amby Bunch and Gary Morrow, went with two wheels on each side, using the remaining servos to operate the rover's scoop.

The team members said they thought the extra wheels would make the rover easier to move and make it more balanced.

"Platypus 5" had one wheel on each side, using the extra servos to drive its larger scoop, which covered the entire front of the rover.

The driver and assistant were parked in a classroom across the hall, watching on a television monitor, simulating the limited view they would have if they were trying to drive the rover from Earth. The camera operator tried to feed a constant picture while the spotter gave instruction via walkie talkie on where to go and what to do to scoop up the ping pong balls.

The mechanic stayed close to the rover, ready to fix a broken wheel or other problems that may pop up during the contest.

"What I am most amazed about is that they both pick up," said Michael Peace, one of the high school students who gave the students some basic engineering lessons and helped build the parts to make the rovers.

After losing their first match, the Doominators moved team members around, trying to find the right combination to overcome the communication problems between the driver and spotter.

With those changes, the team got on a roll and came out of the losers' bracket to take on the undefeated Platypus 5 teams for the school championship.

Time became short and the final match never took place. However, both teams were ready to go on to Lexington.

Hendrickson said students at the middle, high and vocational schools have participated in this program, which is run through Project Lead The Way, a national effort to develop and promote critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation in students. It is the first year at the intermediate school

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