Water-powered robots

Published 11:04 am Friday, May 23, 2014

When I think of robots, it’s pretty far down my list of thoughts before the old mind considers the word water.

Typically, one might think of water as the enemy of all things electronic. But the Franklin High School robotics program is changing the way I think about water and robots. While their robots are not directly powered by water, indirectly community fundraisers help power the program, and the biggest one they do is the annual Robo Regatta.

Community organizations and people in general build cardboard boats, take them out on the Blackwater River, and race them. To me, it sounded like one of the best things ever. Robots, cardboard and water, where do I sign up?

Unfortunately for The Tidewater News, our boat sunk before it ever made it onto the river.

Our intentions were good, but we spent far more time talking about it than actually building it. We waited until two weeks before the program was set to actually start before we even bothered trying to collect cardboard. It took about a week to actually get some cardboard, and when we got it, it was way too thin to actually work on the river, calm as it is. We set out to try to get some more, but by the time that got rolling, it was Wednesday, and the event was on Saturday.

Between work and sleep, if we had bothered to throw it together in a few days, we knew the only award that we could have competed for was the Titanic. That’s assuming what we slapped together at the last minute with thin cardboard would have even floated long enough for our poor victims… er… rowers (our intern Alex Kokich and designer Retta Lomax) to even get their toes in before it was at the bottom of the dock.

That said, we learned some lessons, and we’ll be back and actually out there with something resembling a boat next year. Assuming we don’t forget our lessons by this time next year.

Anyway, that brings me to my point. It’s a fun event and it supports something that is well-worth supporting, the Franklin High School robotics program. This is a team that competes in world championships, even though they are working with fewer students and mentors than many teams across the state. The program teaches children how fun STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can be. Many go on into STEM fields because of their experience in the program.

So that brings me to you, the reader. Many out there on Saturday said they wished they had built a boat, and that they wanted to enter it next year. And I’m sure there are plenty of people who did not attend out there who also can see the fun in building a cardboard boat, while also helping these children out.

So let’s make it more than talk and thoughts, Franklin. Let’s commit now to building a boat and competing for cardboard mastery on the Blackwater River.

CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. And if you sink, please make it spectacular for the newspaper photographer. He can be reached at 562-3187 or cain.madden@tidewaternews.com.