The Kids Clean Up Again

Post from Harry Hutchinson:

One of my favorite teams was back in the news a short while ago. The Kell High School Robotics Team had been invited to the White House Science Fair to exhibit the students’ latest invention, a remote-controlled device for skimming oil from the surface of shallow waters. Kell High is in Marietta, Ga., and a local Fox affiliate, Channel 5 in Atlanta, picked up the story.

The group had designed the remotely operated vehicle as a Lemelson-MIT Inventeam project. According to the team, the design is a response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It has a conveyor system to transfer oil into a containment unit, a tread system to negotiate hazards in shallow waters, and solar panels to extend battery life. A GPS unit and camera help with navigation.

They call the device ORCA, for “oil recovery and capture.” The design landed a $10,000 Inventeam grant. The team took a one-third scale model first to EurekaFest at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then on to the White House Science Fair.  

The Kell team started as a competitor in the FIRST Robotics Competition, but caught the inventive bug in a bigger way. An earlier invention by the group was Corky, an ROV designed to pick up floating trash and litter from lakes and streams. Mechanical Engineering magazine carried a story about that one in the January 2010 issue. It made use of parts from old robotics kits left over from earlier FIRST seasons.

Corky went on to win a SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Environmental Excellence Award that netted the team a prize of 10 grand and a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay.

This doesn’t take anything away from kids who play ball. I tried and never got the hang of it. Too clumsy, too slow. But wow. These are kids who build robots. They work with engineers, teachers, grad students, and just about anyone else who can make a contribution. Talk about widening your horizons.

Their website, which has some elements under construction, contains some pretty sophisticated video, but better than that is the line that introduces them all: “We are the people who sit at the ‘cool table.’”

But why should anybody be surprised by that? After all, isn’t that what FIRST hopes to do for kids everywhere?

RuthAnn Bigley, who works for ASME in Georgia, keeps us in the New York office up to date on the Kell team’s doings.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

March 2012

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