The workhorse of Sherman High School’s extracurricular robotics team is well-built, simply dressed and didn’t say one word during the team’s after-school practice. The star performer of the team may not have much in the way of personality, but physics and computer science teacher Todd Gruhn said the other members of the robotics team have at least nicknamed him: "I think they call it Bill," Gruhn said of the team’s robot.

The workhorse of Sherman High School’s extracurricular robotics team is well-built, simply dressed and didn’t say one word during the team’s after-school practice. The star performer of the team may not have much in the way of personality, but physics and computer science teacher Todd Gruhn said the other members of the robotics team have at least nicknamed him: "I think they call it Bill," Gruhn said of the team’s robot.


Bill is a task-performing robot designed and built by a team of SHS students to compete in Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology, or BEST, competitions. In the competitions, the customized robot is operated by two team members in an effort to quickly perform a series of tasks.


This year, after having advanced to the final round and won second place in one category at the area competition, SHS’ team will travel to the multi-state regional competition on Nov. 8 and 9 in Garland. Denison and Gunter high school students have also advanced to the competition.


Gruhn explained that the tasks are a large-scale model of similar work done by robots in real-world processor and computer parts manufacturing. "It’s actually an assembly at a wafer fab you might have at Intel or one of those places," Gruhn said.


Kenric Davies, another physics teacher at the high school working with students on the BEST competitions, said the competition also serves as a microcosm of the professional robotics world. Davies said the competition requires students to learn marketing skills, such as public speaking and graphic design, in addition to the production skills, including industrial design and computer programming, to bring Bill to life.


"It’s not just driving a robot and accomplishing a task," Davies said. "There’s a notebook that highlights their trials and errors. They design a marketing presentation that entails making a whole sales pitch. They do a whole tabletop display. They really have to sell their robot being better."


Agricultural science teacher Ronald Blum said the diversity of skills tested in the competition attracts students with a wide range of interests. "There are so many different aspects," Blum said. "It allows for kids to be involved how they choose."


During a practice on Wednesday one student operated two wheels that pushed Bill back and forth on two axes, while another used a remote control to manipulate coat-hangers and puzzle pieces with Bill’s single articulating arm. Gruhn said the student positioning the robot is called the spotter, while the operator of the arm is the driver.


One of the three tasks the students are challenged to perform with Bill mimics the assembly of gates in a microprocessor. The driver uses Bill’s arm to select a black coat-hanger from the bottom of a tower and attempts to place it on a plastic pipe attached to the top of the tower. Bill’s arm pushes the plastic pipe to the wrong angle and the driver yells, "Switch!"


The spotter instantly repositions Bill to allow the arm to slide the hanger on. A few seconds later a robotics team member holding a stopwatch calls, "Time!"


The after-school robotics program has been bringing pre-career technology learning to SHS for about a decade, Blum said. Davies attempted to explain the point-scoring system for the competition, which is filled with a coded lingo and complex structure that prepares students for the real world in its own way.


"See, you have these parts over here labeled Mux, Adder, Decoder, and Latch," Davies said. "Well, it’s very complex. The points can get pretty complicated, but the team knows what to do."


Davies said the team qualified for the regional competition based on its exceptional handling of the robot. "We finished second in driving capabilities, and we were very close to the team that placed first. Our robot can handle the tasks, and it’s very durable, and our team can handle the pressure."


The enthusiastic robotics faculty also wished to highlight the efforts of math teacher Steve Schutts and architecture and construction teacher Paul Turner.