There are many things students at the University of Dallas have grown accustomed to seeing on campus, but high school students toting robot parts has not been one of them.
Over the past few months, that has begun to change.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘Who are these kids?’ ” computer science professor Dr. Robert Hochberg said.
They are the Legendary Llamas, a group of five homeschooled high schoolers, and they design and build robots competitively. The team history is recorded on their website, which is also designed by the students themselves.
Previously, the Llamas were sponsored by the University of Texas at Dallas and were not the Llamas at all. They were Team Operation Clockwork, and they made it through qualifiers last season before losing at regionals.
This year, the team has a new name and a new university sponsor: the University of Dallas.
This sponsorship is not simply monetary; it includes the invaluable resource of faculty and university student mentorship.
Both Hochberg and members of the computer science club have worked with the team since September, helping them prepare for competition.
The competition, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), is intended to simulate rescue situations mountain explorers might face.
Each team constructs their own robot with the ability to complete a variety of tasks; for instance, the robot must be able to pick up the “debris” in its way and deposit it in designated bins.
While it might be the most immediately impressive achievement, the robot itself is only one component of a team’s score.
Each team also develops an Engineering Notebook, in which all their discoveries, mistakes and learning curves are recorded.
A well constructed “EN” is what enabled the Llamas to qualify for regionals this year. Since then, they have been working to perfect their robot design, up to and including its appearance.
“We can … try and put some modifications on it, so that it actually looks like a llama,” one student said in the midst of a trial run.
The students are as lively and easily amused as anyone can expect five teenage boys to be; however, they are also highly motivated and skilled.
Each team is required to conduct their own research, formulate their own designs and build their own robot. They also complete any necessary computer programming and document their results.
Hochberg put it simply: “They’re smarter than me.”
He is eager to keep the team under the mentorship of UD students and faculty.
However, doing so necessitates more student mentors. No particular training is necessary for the position; in fact, the most valuable asset is a genuine desire to help the students succeed and grow in their pursuits.
Their enthusiasm is contagious, and any UD student should recognize the genuine love of learning the team encompasses.
To house such a team at UD is not only a great honor, but a chance for the university to expand its horizons.
While UD is known for producing literary scholars, theologians, and philosophers, Hochberg believes the university’s intellectual curiosity is just as well suited for robotics and engineering.
“It’s a chance to put UD on a different kind of map,” Hochberg said.
Perhaps more importantly, it is an opportunity to share UD’s intellectual spirit with the community’s youth.
Anyone interested in mentoring the Legendary Llamas can contact Hochberg at email@example.com.