Teamwork is the mother of invention for Vale robotics team

Briggs Martin looks over the code while Jacob Maxwell works on the metal frame of a robot at Vale High School in Jim Schaffeld’s classroom. Martin, Maxwell, Porter McKrola and Jonas Grout are members of the Vale Robotics Team that recently earned a spot in VEX Robotics World Championship tournament in Kentucky next month. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – About half the ingredients for success for the Vale High School robotics team sit in a clear plastic tote against the wall of Jim Schaffeld’s classroom.

At first glance, the elements of invention look like assorted scraps of plastic, metal and electrical wire.

Yet in the hands of Vale students Porter McKrola, Jonas Grout, Jacob Maxwell, and Briggs Marvin, those seemingly ordinary scraps represent endless possibilities. McKrola is a sophomore while his three teammates are freshmen.

Pro basketball great Michael Jordan once said that while talent wins games, teamwork and intelligence win championships.

McKrola, Grout, Maxwell and Briggs can relate to Jordan’s views. They know all about teamwork and success after they clinched a spot in the VEX Robotics World Championship tournament in Kentucky scheduled for April 25. The team qualified for the world championship competition knocking off the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds at the state tournament in Salem earlier this month.

The Vale squad will be one of seven Oregon teams to compete in Louisville.

A huge part of their success is built on teamwork.

 “We are all equal. We literally have no leader,” said Marvin.

In Schaffeld’s classroom last week, they huddled around the object of their labor – a square 12-pound robot that uses a lift to grab items and move them.

The robot is powered by batteries and consists of steel and aluminum. Along with metal, the robot is built from electrical wire, wheels, tiny motors and shafts. The group began to build the robot in December from assorted parts furnished through Schaffeld’s robotics class. The first step was to create a functional design for the robot. 

After the robot was constructed, the Vale squad competed in matches against other teams that tested the design and function of their robot through practical trials.

The tests include grasping objects and moving them from one place to another inside a square arena.

The robot also must function independently for a specific amount of time.

But real success is not measured by tournaments. The goal of the class, said Schaffeld, is simple.

“We have a process – research, design and build, and test in a continuous loop,” said Schaffeld.

Marvin agreed.

“It is not near about building but having a design that works well,” said Marvin. The robot going to the world competition took three months to create.

“To get the idea and to figure out if it works is why it takes time,” said Maxwell.

Each member has specific roles. For example, Marvin writes the code for the robot while McKrola drives it. McKrola said he uses a remote-control device to operate the robot “to get as many points as possible during a match.”

Maxwell and Grout helped build the robot.

“I am kind of half builder and half coder,” said Maxwell. The team carried one clear advantage into the state tournament, said Marvin.

 “The easiest part is that all of us knew each other and were friends before this,” he said.

Without teamwork, there is no victory, he said.

“If you don’t want to follow the team effort you are going to have problems,” he said. Marvin said he could focus on directing the programming of the robot because he knows his teammates have a handle on other parts of the project.

“They know what they are doing when it comes to the robot,” he said. 

Building the robot is all about experimenting, said Grout.

“It is trial and error,” he said. Schaffeld said members of the team must tackle an array of challenges even after the robot is constructed and operational.

“One of the biggest things is troubleshooting – what to shrink down, what to change. ” said Schaffeld.

Marvin said the team is eager to get to Kentucky, even though the competition from 500 teams from across the globe will be tough.

“We don’t know if we will do well. We are going up against Japan and Singapore and we are just small-town Vale,” said Marvin. Team members don’t seem to consider themselves to be underdogs but Schaffeld said what they accomplished at the state tournament in Salem was extraordinary.

 The team said it will work on the robot over spring break. The team is also raising money from the community for their trip to Kentucky.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to Vale High School Robotics by contacting Schaffeld at 541-473-3181 or at [email protected].