Columbia’s Army Ants robot to be featured in international competition
Youth of the community Army Ants robotics team prepares to face teams from around the world in Houston this week.
Army Ants received the prestigious Chairman’s Award at a regional competition in St. Louis during spring break March 30-April 2.
The team from previous competitions perfected a robot that climbs and shoots hoops, but this next competition is so much more, the team members said.
The competitions are part of FIRST, for the inspiration and recognition of science and technology.
The team captains are high school students Zihao Zhou, 17, and Luke Sabath, 18. The team members spoke from their base of operations, the Agricultural Engineering Building at the University of Missouri.
“It’s an international competition,” said Luke. “There are teams from Brazil, Turkey, Australia – all over the world.”
The team leaves on Tuesday for the competition which begins on Wednesday.
The president’s award is recognition that Army Ants are a big deal, said junior Yogev Angelovici, 16.
“They tell us that we are the best representation of FIRST’s ideals and goals,” Yogev said.
FIRST’s core values on its website are Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork, and Fun.
During the St. Louis competition, video of the team played when they won the award.
Junior Caroline Ma, 16, was responsible for setting up the team’s 39-page information binder.
“That’s all the information we have on our team,” Caroline said.
Judges can review it for information they don’t include in their presentation, she said.
It includes the team’s 11-year history and number of students working in computer-aided design, mechanical shop, programming, branding and marketing, outreach and social events.
“We are a community team,” Yogev said.
“It was our greatest achievement,” Caroline said.
Work to bring the product to market is still going on behind the scenes, they said.
Winning the president’s award in Houston would put Army Ants in the FIRST Hall of Fame, Yogev said.
“We can take our message internationally,” he said.
Yogev was introduced to military ants through a underwater robot camp the team presented in 2015, when he was 10 years old.
The team mentors are Andy Winslow, Kevin Gillis and Anand Chandrasekhar. Gillis won the woody flowers Prize in Saint-Louis for the best mentor. Flowers was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of FIRST.
Zihao and Luke put the robot through its actions. Using metal hooks extending overhead, it locks onto a metal rod before another pair of hooks also grabs the rod. Then the first hooks extend to a higher rod and the process repeats.
The robot also moves around a field picking up balls the size of a basketball or soccer ball and throwing them into a target.
The camera vision system uses green light that reflects off the hoop, using a programmed mathematical formula to determine the speed, trajectory and force needed, Zihao said.
“It’s not always 100% accurate,” Zihao said.
It’s also not a good shot from a distance because the system can’t “see” the hoop beyond a certain distance, he said.
The robot took about eight weeks to build from the start of brainstorming, Luke said.
They made improvements along the way. At a tournament in Oklahoma in March, one of the robot’s hooks broke, so they replaced it with a stronger one.
They use a direct drive instead of a belt because belts keep breaking, Zihao said.
The cost to build the robot is around $5,000, they said. There are additional fees for participating in contests and for travel and tools.
The team is trying to raise $10,000 through an online fundraiser for his trip to Houston.
“There are a lot of very good teams and a lot of very well funded teams,” Zihao said. “Some have been around for 30 years. It’s one of our most successful robots. We’re getting better every year.”
Roger McKinney is the Tribune’s educational reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] or 573-815-1719. He’s on Twitter at @rmckinney9.