Columbia Army Ants Youth Robotics Team Wins International Award


Several awards were announced, with polite applause in response from those who gathered in a classroom at the University of Missouri Agricultural Engineering Building.

Then, louder acclaim rose when Army Ants was announced as the winner of the Global Innovation Design Award 2021 at the FIRST Robotics Competition. Army Ants is a team of young robotics, but this competition has gone beyond the realm of robotics.

The FIRST Global Innovation Awards featured teams from the United States, Mexico, France, Brazil, India, Norway, Israel and Tunisia. The awards show was online and Army Ants team members, mentors and guests were viewed on a large screen in the classroom.

They celebrated with homemade brownies and milk.

“I think we did a good job as a team,” said Zihao Zhou, 16, a student from Rock Bridge High School. “We put a lot of work into it. “

The team developed a smart compression stocking, calling it the Sensor Platform for Orthopedic Compliance After Knee Surgery, or SPOCKS. They were still working on bugs in the prototype after the online awards ceremony concluded.

After:Columbia high school students prepare for international robotics competition

Akhilan Elangovan, 16, shows where a computer chip equipped with a gyroscope and accelerometer is placed inside a compression sock.  The chip will transmit a signal via Bluetooth to a computer to give real-time information about the movement of a patient's knee being studied after knee replacement surgery.

The bottom contains sensors inside to measure quadriceps activation, range of motion and weight bearing to help people recovering from knee replacement surgery meet their recovery goals.

A sensor is an inertial measurement unit with an accelerometer and a gyroscope to measure rotation and motion respectively. Another sensor measures the weight the wearer puts on the knee. The activity is recorded on an application via a Bluetooth connection.

Jessica Barnard, a high school student at home, tried it out while other students tested the prototype.

“It’s quite comfortable,” she said. “It’s not too restrictive. I can feel it, but it’s not painful. I would get used to it if I wore it all day.”

The adult mentors on the team are MU faculty members Kevin Gillis and Anand Chandrasekhar and software engineer Andy Winslow.

Team members Amy Ants Youth Robotics, left, Zihao Zhou, 16, Akhilan Elangovan, 16, and Saathvik Kannan, 15, work on their inertial leg measurement sensor which includes a gyroscope and accelerometer, which is placed inside a compression sock to send a signal to a computer to give real-time information on the movements of a patient studied after knee replacement surgery.

After:Columbia High School robotics team continues to grow

The award places Army Ants in the top six teams in the world, said Gillis.

“I think we are happy and really proud of what the team has accomplished,” said Chandrasekhar.

Curious how Sierra Luttrell said she felt ahead of the awards announcement. The middle school student measured and sewn the pockets for the sensors.

“I think we have a chance to make the top five,” Luttrell said. “I’m really curious, including what the others have been up to.”

His thoughts afterwards?

“We are apparently very good at designing things,” she said.

Army Ants started in 2010-11 and has 35 students. The team is managed by the nonprofit Columbia Educational Robotics Foundation and is a 4-H affiliate club.

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