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High School Students Solve Engineering Problems in Annual Competition

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From the Centre Daily Times

It took about three months to make, but a group of Bald Eagle Area High School students built and programmed a robot that could operate by remote control.

Looking only on a screen that transmitted video footage from the robot named “The Boss,” junior Luke Holler attempted to complete a mission.

He — with help from his team — was required to use the robot to pick up blocks and put them in designated containers.

The objective was to complete the mission in the fastest time.

It was part of a project done Friday at the fourth annual Sea, Air and Land Challenge at Bald Eagle Area High School.

The competition is organized by the Electro-Optics Center at Penn State and funded by the Office of Naval Research.

Electro-Optics Center Director Bill Kiser said the center performs research that supports the Department of Defense and national security agencies.

He said the challenge was developed to allow students to solve engineering problems that replicate technical problems that could happen within the Department of Defense.

Sea, Air and Land — also mimicking the name of the SEALs — allows students to participate in projects of their choice that work with at least three elements through military-relevant scenarios.

The goal is to help educate students about how to address similar problems that defense groups have on a daily basis, Kiser said.

“One of the big problems we’ve had through the years is finding qualified young adults that want to move into this business, and at the same time qualified to solve the problems and have the correct education to work for us,” Kiser said.

In most cases, Kiser said, students make submarines for the “sea” portion, drones for “air” and ground robots for “land.”

Teams competing came from Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and State College area school districts. All but one — a team from Penns Valley — competed in the land competition.

Six PVAHS students headed to Pittsburgh on Tuesday for a larger Sea, Air and Land Competition, and placed second among six other groups competing in the air challenge.

Though they didn’t have competition Friday as the sole air team, the team said they still wanted to participate in the local event to showcase their work.

With help from mentor Scott Boone, of Sound Technology, and teachers in an engineering design class, sophomore Justin Sands said his team made a drone that was required to fly and drop items on designated targets.

The catch — the pilot had to run the operation blindly with a different person acting as the navigator.

“We learned how to make it operate, but the bigger challenge was communication,” Sands said. “There needs to be trust and good relationship among each other to complete the mission.”

Sea, Air and Land Challenge was founded four years ago at a community college in western Pennsylvania. This year, it included 400 student participants in two states.

Kiser said the goal for next year is to expand the competition to 1,000 students in at least four states.

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