Cedar Hill Students Hope Robot Cane Blasts Competition

Four students in the Cedar Hill ISD will take a duct-taped robot into statewide competition Saturday.

Seventh grader Carah Allen will go into it looking for redemption. 

"I'm nervous, because last year in state, we did terrible," she said. "I hope we do better, and I hope we win."

Allen is on the robotics team at Bessie Coleman Middle School in Cedar Hill.  Last year, she teamed with classmate Azylin Sikes in the state competition. The girls didn't do as well as they hoped, but they'll return to the Texas Computer Education Association Robotics Competition in Hutto with two new teammates.

"I asked Carah to be the team captain, and she wouldn't tell you this, but I think she has natural leadership skills," computer literacy teacher Edward Lie said. "She immediately started whipping a team into shape, delegating roles and figuring out who does what."

Carah and Ayzlin brought in Brandon Blanco. His friend Kevin Sulca fell in line, too. Together, the four are Gotta Blast. Together they built a robot that won regionals, and now they're after a state title.

"They wanted to create a machine to assist the visually impaired," said Lie. 

"It's to help aid blind people so they don't run into things," explained Carah.

Through sensors and gears, the cane vibrates when the user comes to close to an object. 

"The gear spins, and then it notifies the blind person something is in front of it, and you tap it, turn and walk forward," said Sulca as he demostrated a robot made of cables, gears and Legos duct taped to a ruler. 

"We called it Panopticane," said Ayzlin.

Their teacher suggested the name as a play on the word panopticon which is "a prison where all these cells are arranged as a cylinder facing inward, and prison wardens are in a tower were everthing is seen." 

The Panopticane beat the rest in a regional competition back in February.

"We felt confident it would work and it would get first place," said Brandon.

And now, it's on to the state competition. No matter what happens there, the four friends are stuck on science.

"I want to be an animator, something with computers," said Ayzlin, the daughter of a science teacher.

Carah's older brother got a scholarship to MIT, and she hopes it's in her future, too.

"I like technology and creating stuff that helps people," she said.

"My future is an engineer, inventor or professional soccer player," said Kevin.

And, for Brandon, "I wanted to learn about electronics and be an engineer when I grow up."

Lie believes in team Gotta Blast he's done his job to help students embrace the possibilities that come with engineering and the desire to solve problems.

"As long as you have that creative drive, as long as you have that curiosity, that motivation, that impetus that there are problems that need solving and creative solutions are necessary, the field is open to everyone, "said Lie.

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