LOUISVILLE, KY (June 17, 2019) –Marquis and Justin, juniors at Essex County West Caldwell Tech in West Caldwell, New Jersey, were thrust together last fall as a two-man team to compete in their first-ever SkillsUSA® Robotics: Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) Challenge. Brand-new to the competition, they went on to win the New Jersey state event, and later this month they will join 26 other high school teams – in addition to 10 middle school teams and five postsecondary teams – from across the United States to compete in the nationals.
"The USAR competition offers the opportunity to build robots and character. We look forward to participating." ~ Robert Lorenzo, West Caldwell Tech engineering instructor and robotics coach
The 2019 SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, which includes the USAR challenge, will be held June 24-28 in Louisville, Kentucky. The Robotics: Urban Search & Rescue Challenge, introduced in 2012 as a demonstration event and debuting as a national event in 2015, tasks students with creating a remote-controlled robot like those employed by emergency service personnel. Students design their robots to be able to secure an area by locating, neutralizing, moving, and disposing of explosive materials. Teams must also pass a written test, create and present a Robot and Engineering Notebook, complete an oral technical presentation of their robots, and maneuver their robots through the competition field in six minutes or less.
The challenge teaches numerous workforce skills, including teamwork, problem-solving, and technical and engineering design. But the skill that helped Justin and Marquis the most was collaboration. "At first, Marquis and I were not the best people working together," admitted Justin. "But eventually we focused on the goal, and we worked together to achieve that goal." "You can't always just rely on yourself to know everything," added Marquis. "You need that second opinion because that second opinion could always be what gets you to the next level."
As a testament to the real-world skills inherent in USAR, through the years, the challenge has garnered interest from various outside parties. In 2013, a USAR team from Duncanville, Texas, built a search and rescue robot that caught the attention of FEMA and was put into use by the Best Southwest Regional Community Emergency Response Team in DeSoto, Texas. And in 2018, both the Massachusetts and the New Jersey Army National Guard began using TETRIX® USAR kits to provide students in their communities with hands-on robotics experience. In fact, the New Jersey National Guard introduced the USAR challenge to the West Caldwell Tech team and even loaned the students the TETRIX kit they used to win the state event.
"Urban Search & Rescue plays right into our mission," said Sergeant First Class Geoffrey Allen of the Massachusetts National Guard's recruiting and retention battalion. "You can easily bridge the gap between the robotics the students use and what we would use in a real-world scenario for our own search and rescue missions."
Robert Lorenzo, engineering instructor and robotics coach at West Caldwell Tech, loves the learning that takes place with USAR. "In addition to the real-world simulation of removing bombs, [students] have to develop numerous skills necessary for successful teamwork. . . . The USAR competition offers the opportunity to build robots and character. We look forward to participating."
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