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Meeting of mechanical minds
12th November, 2006

HAMMOND | Hanging laundry is always a chore, especially if you use a hand-built robot and are on the clock to do it -- while hundreds of people are screaming encouragement.

Highland High School students faced that situation Saturday as the only team from Indiana at the Laundry Quandary at Purdue University Calumet.

The BEST program encourages students' interest in engineering and technology with competition. This year, the competition involved laundry. It was sponsored by Illinois BEST and Johnson Controls/York Inc.

Eighteen teams were challenged to build a robot that could either hang laundry or retrieve it in three minutes. The team with the robot that performed best won a cash prize and advanced to the national competition, team sponsors said.

Highland is in its second year in BEST, and last year finished 18th out of 30 teams. That's not bad for a first effort, said teacher Phil Pena, sponsor for the team.

Teams were given lists of parameters, rules and optional materials they could include, Pena said. Four students -- Charlie Timko, Daniel Kasczmark, Alan Pena and Josh Rothchild -- stuck with the project from beginning to end and "developed the strategy" for building the robot, Pena said.

Timko and Kasczmark, seniors in their second year in the robotics team, credited their "mechanical minds" for drawing them to robotics. The group built their robot to bring in laundry rather than hang it.

Although some robots in the competition featured a scissors-like arm, Highland team members decided an arm shaped like a crane would suit their purposes much better.

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