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Local News

Joliet District 204 hosts robot building safety seminar

Area teams prepare for robotics competition

JOLIET – Safety came first at a seminar to teach young robot builders how to handle themselves in a workshop environment where injuries – including some that are life-threatening – can occur.

On Saturday, Vulcan Materials Co. safety representative Loren Smith held a cordless reciprocating saw in front of several students inside the Joliet Township High School Administrative Center. It was one of many tools they needed to learn how to handle with extreme caution. 

“If I am doing something wrong, I want you guys to stop me,” Smith said.

After attaching the battery pack, he was about to put in the saw blade when students told him to stop. They knew that with a power source plugged in, the saw could turn on and cut his hand.

Smith and several other Vulcan representatives emphasized the need for students to stay safe as they prepare to build their robots for the FIRST Robotics Competition next year.

Students who came to the seminar were part of competitive robot-building teams from Joliet Township High School District 204, Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School and St. Ignatius College Prep

When Smith put together the cordless saw and showed students how to properly use it, he allowed Anna Hartley from Bradley-Bourbonnais to give it a whirl. Like everyone else, she donned safety glasses and wore earplugs. 

“It was kind of unfamiliar,” Hartley said about using the saw. “I was kind of scared myself, but [Smith] walked me through it.”

She said it was important for students to be safe when using tools because she hears all the time about someone getting hurt.  

‘Why take the risk?’

In a presentation on workshop dangers, Jason Schlee, Vulcan safety and health department manager, repeatedly asked the students, “Why take the risk?” 

The students were shown the consequences of not wearing safety gear, and wearing jewelry or loose clothing while using tools in a workshop.

“There’s many people who think it can’t happen to them. ‘It happens to the other person,’” he said.

Safety comes down to one person’s tolerance for risk, he said. An important aspect of it is what precautions people are willing to take in a workshop when there are no mentors or others around. 

After the presentation, students went to several stations to learn how to handle tools as well as what it’s like to not have a finger or an eye because of an accident.

Schlee had students put on glasses that covered up their dominant eye and a band that wrapped their thumb and finger together before doing simple tasks like tying shoes or cutting paper. 

Robot competition 

Next year, the Joliet Cyborgs – a team of student robot builders – will kick off its fifth year participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Last January, the students built a robot called Cadenas – the Spanish word for chains – to compete. 

Students handle design, building, programming, electronics and media tasks. Each year, they work to build a robot based on specifications from FIRST, a nonprofit that runs the competition. Next year, more than 3,000 teams internationally will participate. 

Joliet Cyborgs lead designer Christopher Trevino said he’s “very much looking forward” to the competition.

“The teaser looks amazing,” he said.

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