Full Metal Jackets – Inspiring People One Robot at a Time

Rockwall High School’s Robotics Team, Full Metal Jackets, is inspiring everyone they meet—one robot at a time!

In what has been called “the ultimate sport for the mind,” mechanical competitors engage each other in games of skill and dexterity. Full Metal Jackets was created in 2004 by head mentor Keith Buchanan, an electrical engineer known to his students as “Mr. B”. “The whole purpose of the program is to encourage students to pursue interests in science and technology. Our country has fallen behind others in our ability to innovate and invent. The kids have the smarts and the interest. We want to provide an environment to nurture it.” Bruce Charbonneau is head teacher mentor from RHS, and he is also a founding member of the team. Other long-time mentors include Glenn and Rhonda Bray.

Each year the Jackets are challenged to design and build a robot to perform specific tasks or games. The tasks and game rules are given to the contestants a little over six weeks before the actual competition. Unlike some other robotics contests, the aim is not to destroy the competition, but to outperform them in the given tasks. The Full Metal Jacket team has racked up an impressive list of awards since 2004, including a second place win this year in the Texas State Championship.

Team members proudly pose with Mittens

The Rockwall team’s 2016 robot, Mittens, picks up and shoots a game ball. There are obstacles that Mittens must cross over to get to the ball. Having the ability to cross over as many obstacles as possible is advantageous, because robots who can do that score more points. Mittens also has a feature that allows the manipulation of two of the obstacles for crossing. Because of its specialized design, Mittens is very fast—shooting 2-3 times as often as most other robots. All of this ability springs from the creative hands of local high school students.

Robotics is now an officially recognized high school team sport in Texas

Full Metal Jackets currently has 35 students as participants. The only senior on the team, Noah Hietbrink, Executive Vice President of Business Operations for Full Metal Jackets, is grateful for what he’s learned by participating in the program. “The amount of stuff you can learn is amazing. For instance, I learned to overcome my fear of public speaking. So many things I’ve done and learned are transferable skills.”

Noah already knows that he is majoring in Computer Science when he heads to university this next fall. But even with the academic load he is expecting, Noah also plans on staying involved with Full Metal Jackets once he leaves high school. Gabriel and Noah both agree that they really try to make it a team with a “family” vibe.

Gabriel explains, “The best part is that a team like this brings together like-minded people, who are robotics nerds. It really brings people of all backgrounds together.”

Keith Buchanan gives a presentation to the team

Each team member is required to perform 20 hours of Community Service per year. That strong service mentality really came into play on December 26, 2015, when Garland and Rowlett experienced a devastating EF4 tornado. The Full Metal Jackets made the decision to open their shop and practice area for the distribution and delivery of tornado relief items. Team members also delivered donated items.

For years, the team utilized a small space it was provided within Rockwall High School. That little room was their meeting space and workshop. There the students would plan, design and build their projects. Last year, Mr. Buchanan personally leased a space at 1010 Industrial Blvd in Rockwall. The new location offers the students a lot more space in which to create. A month ago the space next door also became available—replete with some pretty fancy equipment. Mr. Buchanan snapped it all up and created a local Makerspace, a community workplace where people with common interests can come together and collaborate on projects.

Gabriel Colmenares and Noah Hietbrink

Full Metal Jackets President, Gabriel Colmenares, is extremely enthusiastic about the addition of Makerspace, which is also open to the public. “Mr. B thinks that Makerspace will be cash-positive soon. Think of it as a gym membership. Pay a monthly fee and get access to a CNC Machine, a lathe, a milling machine, 3D printers, and more.” When Makerspace becomes profitable, Mr. Buchanan will be donating that money back to the team.

Rockwall Robotics Booster Club is currently raffling a 2017 Ford Mustang to raise money for the team. This is the raffle’s second year. Tickets are $25 and a maximum of 2500 tickets will be sold.

On Saturday, October 22, 2016, Full Metal Jackets is hosting a golf tournament at the Rockwall Golf & Athletic Club. Players can pay to chip and putt against a Full Metal Jackets-created Robot! Several of the veteran team members are creating a brand-new robot specifically for use at the golf tournament. This robot will have a golf putter attached to it, and the robot will use that putter to putt golf balls. The golfer and the robot will compete to see whose ball lands closer to the hole. If the golfer’s ball lands closer to the hole, they will win a raffle ticket. The raffle prize is a new putter!

A silent auction is also taking place, with all proceeds benefiting Full Metal Jackets.

The Full Metal Jackets Team looks forward to seeing you there!

Story by Shari Rose and Bob Lewis
Planet Rockwall contributing writers

Photos by Shari Rose and Rockwall Robotics

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