Gilchrist Robotics – The Bomb Squad

When Madison, an eighth grader at Gilchrist School, had to choose which class she wanted to take to fulfill her technology requirement, she chose robotics. With Brian Wachs as her teacher she knew the class would keep her interested and challenged, and she was not disappointed.

The thing I like most about working with robotics would have to be the learning. Here, every day is something new. Our teacher makes our class a fun environment where we are free to grow and expand as a team, as well as by ourselves.” Says Madison.

Generally the team works with simple NXT robots and their biggest problem is a lack of supplies. Robots are occasionally poached for parts, creating a level of complex troubleshooting that the team must overcome to create functioning robots. So, when the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) called with a troubleshooting project that they couldn’t solve, the team jumped at the chance to tackle something new.

When Klamath County Officers are faced with a possible explosive they use the expertise of their officers, explosive sniffing dogs, and robotics that can interact with explosives at a safe distance from humans. KCSO currently employs the use of the MARCbot IV, a robot used by soldiers overseas to dramatically decrease the death toll caused by explosives. Klamath County’s MARCbot IV was out of commission, and after exhausting all troubleshooting within the office, KCSO decided to contact the Gilchrist Eighth Grade Robotics Team as a last ditch effort to salvage it.

The MARCbot is a robot that U.S. Army soldiers are currently using to help identify improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq. It is a multi-functional, agile, and remote controlled machine.” Explains Madison. “Our team immediately jumped into action. I read the manual first thing, flipping straight to the literal troubleshooting section. I read them out loud while the rest of my team started unscrewing antennas, checking batteries, unscrewing panels, etc.”

The technical skills gained working with the MARCbot IV were advanced for any eighth grade robotics team, but that wasn’t all the Gilchrist team took away from the experience. The team also matured in their own communication and interaction, a growth that is fostered by Wachs and his ability to guide the team while still allowing them to learn and grow from their own troubleshooting. With Wachs’ guidance the team was able to successfully and professionally work along side the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office, ultimately solving and providing the Sheriff’s Office with a viable solution for fixing their broken bomb squad robot.

The best [part] of working with the MARCbot IV, for me, was the knowledge and experience. The project helped us grow as individual students and as the Gilchrist Eighth Grade Robotics Team. We trust each other with difficult decisions now, whereas before we were still slightly wary of the ideas of others.” Says Madison. “My teacher, Mr. Wachs, is absolutely wonderful at making sure that we learn something new everyday, although he likes to let us do so on our own.”

After running through the normal diagnostic tests, the team reached out to Exponent, an engineering and scientific consulting company, to run through the next tier of troubleshooting. The team found that while both the MARCbot IV itself and its Operational Control Unit (OCU) were functional, they were unable to send or receive signals from each other. The team passed the information about what was needed to fix the MARCbot IV to KCSO, and are currently waiting to see if funding was secured to send it to Exponent’s Arizona office.