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South Jordan Journal

AAI’s robotics team learns skills beyond competition

Jul 26, 2021 03:02PM ● By Julie Slama

As American Academy of Innovation robotics students competed in an area tournament at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo, they also learned business, communication and teamwork skills. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

American Academy of Innovation sophomore Jed Johnson is a self-proclaimed tinkerer.

“I’ve always had an interest in electronics and programming,” he said. “This is my third year on the robotics team. It gives me an opportunity to learn and develop my creative side.”

As members of AAI’s FIRST Tech Challenge team, Johnson and other team members build and program a robot to compete a specific challenge. This year’s challenge was to accumulate the most points in the FIRST Tech Challenge’s Ultimate Goal.

At several area competitions, AAI’s robot and another robot that was randomly selected formed an alliance to face their opponents. 

The two teams on each side had their robots ready in the 12-foot-by-12-foot playing surface; the four robots were ready to battle to see which alliance could get the most points. Ultimately, the teams with the most points advance to the final rounds.

The robots began with 30-second autonomous period where teams had preprogrammed or used sensors to have their robots move a wobbly goal to a certain place on the playing field or launch rings into goals stacked at different heights to earn points. They also could gain points for each power shot that was knocked down from the launching zone.

Then, the teams’ two drivers picked up their controls for a two-minute period where, again, they battled for points by getting rings in the goals. At the end, they could also put rings on the wobbly goals and move those goals over the edge of the field for points.

While the competition is stiff, Johnson’s teammate junior Mikayli Cannon said it’s “honestly, learning how to work as a team and coming together for the best results. Everyone tends to think differently.”

Johnson said that they do that by “sitting together coming up with ideas and then choosing the best idea to approach the challenge and robot in a unique way. By doing that, we work together and cooperate as team members, and we learn more from one another. It’s a big game changer.”

Danielle Cannon, advises the 12-member team, of which only four will return this school year to compete on the team. 

“They collaborate well together and listen to one another,” she said. “We weren’t able to have much in terms of mentors come because of the [COVID-19] pandemic, so they listened to their team leads. Besides programming, they learn business and English skills and presentation skills—and they learn about trial and error and perseverance. To them, this is like athletics—a place where they can excel and belong, challenge themselves and draw from.”

This year, AAI hosted a tournament for the first time and learned the “behind the scenes.” The team members chose not to compete at their own tournament to ensure there wasn’t a conflict of interest, but instead traveled to West High, Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo and Hurricane, Utah, tournaments.

While the team competed in those tournaments this year, they didn’t qualify for state after being state runner-up last year—by a piece of tape. 

“We had all kinds of issues,” Johnson said. “We had to fit our robot in an 18-inch-by-18-inch-by-18-inch space, and we were able to do that with the arm mechanism down, but then it wouldn’t stay up. So, we used Scotch tape, and it worked. We had all these things that our robot could do, but we needed a quick fix and that was tape.”

Mikalyi Cannon, who wants to be a neurosurgeon, said that being involved in robotics has given a chance to be a leader and have her voice heard.

“I’ve learned leadership skills and how to work together, like who can help someone do what they like and are good at while teaching others how to do it,” she said.

The student body 11th grade representative and yearbook staff member, Mikayli Cannon, first became involved in robotics through a FIRST LEGO League team formed by Girl Scout Council of Utah. 

“I enjoyed the two years I was on that team and then came here,” ,” she said. “The first year, there were three of us, and I was able to use my experience and voice to share what I had learned.”

Cannon agrees. 

“She has five years under her belt with FIRST,” Cannon said. “She has gone from a quiet little shy thing to a room full of boys where she has made herself heard. She holds her own. She knows what she is talking about and brings out other people, so they learn from one another and come up with some amazing ideas.”