Red Mountain students build robot to facilitate discussion about tobacco - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Red Mountain students build robot to facilitate discussion about tobacco

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Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014 6:00 am | Updated: 4:41 pm, Tue Apr 22, 2014.

Students at Red Mountain High School in Mesa took a shot at reemphasizing the harm caused by tobacco with a robot they designed themselves.

The robot, which will tour Arizona, shoots Frisbees at targets as part of an educational game for children. The robot was designed by two Red Mountain seniors, Kelly Carlson and Luke Ehrke, as part of an anti-smoking campaign and to gain experience in robotics.

“One of the things our team does is go out and promote that really anybody can be an engineer,” Carlson said.

Engineering and robotics teacher Brent Kellis got a call in October from the public relations company Riester with an offer to build a robot that would engage people while reiterating the dangers of tobacco. Kellis jumped at the opportunity.

In the past, the Plasma Robotics Club has used its skills to make robots for school plays and dances, and Kellis said he thought this new project would be perfect for his two students.

Aside from Carlson and Ehrke, other students were involved: robotics club students helped assemble the robot; drama students designed the targets that the robot shoots at; and welding students helped with the advanced welding.

The combination of students and skills came together to make a great robot, Kellis said.

“I am thrilled with how it turned out. It covered all the essential elements of an engineering project including all the stress of the deadline being down to the last minute,” she said.

Carlson, who lost both her grandfathers to tobacco, said the project is something she can be proud of.

“Tobacco has affected my family. … My family was really proud of me for working on a project like this,” she said. “We have a chance to be activists.”

Carlson said this project allowed everyone on the robotics team to gain real world experience of project management, working with a client and mechanical engineering skills.

“Mechanical engineers know how to wire, know how to weld, and they are well-rounded,” she said. “Being able to do hands-on things, knowing how to wire and time management are all really crucial engineering skills.”

Ehrke said the robot gave many students opportunities to learn new skills.

“With the robot you get a whole range of different opportunities to be able to code and to be able to work on the project as a whole is something you don’t get in the classroom,” he said.

Aside from the mechanical engineering skills, Ehrke developed his project management skills by working on a tight, three-week deadline.

“At first glance when we had three weeks to build the robot and we had nothing it was a little daunting,” he said. “We were able to pull together and it is a very rewarding part of the robot.”

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• Shelby Slade is a sophomore at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at

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