RMHS robotics class impresses IDOT

Published12/4/2008 12:02 AM

Robotics students at Rolling Meadows High School spent much of the fall coming up with a way for Illinois to better inspect bridges.

And through their partnership with Illinois Department of Transportation, they were in essence building bridges for themselves, too.


The cooperative was part of the state's Innovation Talent Program, where students work with a business or agency on a problem-solving venture. Rolling Meadows was one of 23 schools statewide in the program.

Using their knowledge of robotics and several high-tech tools, the students came up with a safe, efficient way to conduct bridge inspections that IDOT hadn't considered seriously in the past.

That's not to say state officials weren't a bit skeptical a group of high school students could really assist them. But in the end, they were quite impressed, said John Webber, assistant to the secretary at IDOT.

"I knew it would work and we'd have a good opportunity to talk with the students, but I didn't know it was going to be real helpful to us," Webber said. "The kids did a tremendous job and actually came up with some ideas that might be workable in the future."

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Mark Koch, school sponsor for the project, said Rolling Meadows was matched with IDOT last spring. The program focuses on "problem-based learning" -- something Koch has plenty of experience with.

For 13 years he has led the successful WildStang robotics team, which performs well consistently and won a national championship in 2003. Many of the students involved in the bridge project are WildStang team leaders.

They spent three busy weeks on the project, in addition to their regular schoolwork. "They volunteered not really knowing what they were getting into," Koch said.

After last year's deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis, bridge safety is on state officials' minds. "We've always had a very aggressive schedule on bridge inspections," Webber said. "Once that happened we had to step it up even more."


With nearly 8,000 bridges to keep tabs on, and dwindling resources to do so, IDOT has sought ways to increase efficiency and safety.

"Bridge inspections are very dangerous things," Webber said. "People have to get up close and personal under the bridge, a lot of times over water."

A robotic inspection could lessen the risks. Students proposed using a robot about the size of a breadbox that could be attached to cables stretching the length of a bridge. It would have cameras attached, including one on the end of an "arm" for hard-to-see places.

The group used computer animation and Power Point presentations to explain their proposal to IDOT officials last month.

"I think they were impressed with the ideas the kids presented to them," Koch said.

No doubt. "We definitely want to maintain contact," Webber said. "They came up with some ideas we are going to share with our operations people."

Congrats to the nine students who saw the project through: Kirstie Cannon, Lizzie Friedman, Ryan Klaproth, Tom Koehler, Jake Mandozzi, Max Stehmeier, Ken Vonderohe, Vlad Voskoboynikov and Alyssa Zielinski.

• Colleen Thomas welcomes your news about community events and people. Call (847) 427-4591, or e-mail her at cthomas@dailyherald.com.

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