Caldwell County students build for the win

Apr. 10, 2014 @ 06:13 PM

You walk up to a closed door, both hands completely occupied by numerous plastic grocery bags while a toddler hangs from your neck like an anvil. Why can’t the door just open for you?

That’s a question and a challenge that a group of students at the Caldwell Career Center and Middle College set out to answer.

They created the gravity-powered door, a contraption that lets someone whose hands are full, is handicapped or otherwise needs a door to open hands-free, open a door simply by stepping in front of it, and that isn’t dependent on elecricity to function.

The person’s weight makes the platform in front of the door drop, causing a cable to pull the door open. When the weight is relieved from the platform, springs pull it back up and the door closes.

Nelson Jackson, George Hickein and Nathan Whitt, all freshmen at the middle college, created the concept for a competition hosted by SkillsUSA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry that promotes skills-based learning. SkillsUSA hosts competitions in more than 90 fields, including architectural drafting, engineering, digital media, robotics, leadership and automotive service technology.

Jackson, Hickein and Whitt will compete with their gravity-powered door at the state competition in Greensboro Wednesday and Thursday, and if they win they will go on to the national competition in Kansas City in June.

Another middle college team, sophomores Mack Coffey and Nathaniel Bowman, built a mining robot for the robotics competition. The robot uses two parallel chains with paddles attached, on top of a conveyor belt, to lift objects from the floor; in the competition’s case it will be a ball with flat hexagonal sides, like a soccer ball but with flat hexagons.

Hickein has always been drawn to building things, he said, growing up with Lego’s and other building toys, and when he heard the middle college had an engineering program it was a no-brainer.

“I immediately signed up, because I really love building stuff,” he said.

Coffey has made the trip to Kansas City once before, placing ninth nationally, and said he likes robotics because of the wide variety of experiences, not the least of which is computer programming.

On Friday, April 4, the two Caldwell county teams, dressed in SkillsUSA uniforms of white polo shirts for the robotics team and burgundy blazers for the engineers, presented their projects before a panel of judges in practice for the state competition, which took place Wednesday and Thursday. The judges did have a few tweaks for the teams, but mainly it was in the presentation, not the product — a few too many “ums” in the presentation, fidgeting a bit too much, and needing to explain the projects in more detail.

The teams will know by Friday morning if they’ll make the trip to nationals, only the winner from each category will travel to Kansas City as the best from North Carolina.