CARLSBAD, N.M. – Area high school science and engineering students were looking for a real-life way to test the robot they created — in an environment like no other. A deputy project manager with the EM Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) management and operations contractor had the answer.
“When I very first saw the robot, I knew these students had created something special that could be very beneficial to the nuclear industry and in the WIPP underground,” Nuclear Waste Partnership’s (NWP) Tammy Reynolds said. “I think the results speak for themselves.”
Like other EM sites, WIPP is exploring the use of robotics for a variety of applications including monitoring radiological areas, checking conditions in areas of the underground where unstable ground conditions exist, and inspecting shafts leading to the WIPP underground.
The Carlsbad High School (CHS) students tested the robot in WIPP to prepare for the international RoboRAVE competition in Albuquerque, N.M. RoboRAVE is a robotics education program that teaches students and teachers how to design, build, program, and test robots to perform a variety of tasks. The students finished fourth overall in the event held earlier this month.
CHS seniors Simon Armijo and Will Baggett and junior Spencer Pennypacker developed and built the robot. The team, which won the 2017 National Robotics Challenge, is coached by CHS teacher Deborah Haggerton.
“The original intent was to help save soldiers’ lives by sending in the robot for surveillance in dangerous, hostile situations,” Armijo explained.
As part of the RoboRAVE competition, the students produced a marketing video to promote their robot and its capabilities to perform tasks in a variety of industries. Testing the robot in the WIPP underground, which included maneuverability over different terrains in the underground and ensuring the radio control system worked properly, gave the CHS students an advantage over other teams in the competition, Armijo said.
“WIPP may have opened the door to our future,” he said.
Reynolds said NWP wanted to create a great experience for the hardworking, enterprising students.
“They really created an incredible machine, and NWP wanted to celebrate that accomplishment with them as they tested their robot in the WIPP underground,” Reynolds said.
The students and their robot competed against more than 350 teams at RoboRAVE.
When asked if the trip to WIPP was beneficial, Armijo struggled to explain what the tour meant to him and his teammates. “I don’t even know how to explain it,” Armijo said.