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VMS Robotics Students Making a Name for Themselves

Veterans Middle School in Donna ISD is getting a lot of attention these days. That’s because students in Daniel Gonzalez’ robotics class are taking on a project that could someday be used for a greater good. That project is a tactical robot owned by the Law Enforcement Emergency Regional Response Team (LEERRT), a unit composed of several local law enforcement agencies that provides training resources and emergency support to small law enforcement agencies in the Rio Grande Valley.

Because of a recent critical incident that took place across a Donna ISD campus, LEERRT gave the district’s PD authorization to house the tactical robot at its headquarters in case it is needed. However, when officers tested the machine, they quickly discovered that something was wrong; it was not functioning. This prompted the PD to reach out to Veterans M.S.

“We were able to get a hold of a couple of robots from the LEERRT team and one of them was out of commission,” said DISD Police Chief Domingo Aguirre. “So, we started brain storming on how we could repair it. This was new to us, so we decided to reach out to Mr. Gonzalez and his robotic students at Veterans Middle School and the kids ran with it. They knew what it needed to get repaired and they took it from there.”

After examining the robot, Gonzalez said the students determined that the switch was the issue. “There’s a camera mounted on a gimbal, allowing the camera to be moved left, right, up and down,” Gonzalez said. “The camera itself and the mechanism that moves it is working fine, but the switch located on the receiver that gives it the directive to move left or right or up or down is broken. That switch is very specific to that controller and it can’t just be replaced with any switch. That’s the part we’re looking at replacing.”

It didn’t take long for the students to learn the complexity of the issue. The switch in question was identified as a military grade switch not sold to the public. So, the students are finding other ways to solve the problem.

“We have a few ideas in mind on how we’re going to replace it with something similar,” Gonzalez said. “If plan A doesn’t work accordingly, we’re going to move to plan B, which will require changing out the switch and the mechanism that controls the camera’s mobility. It will be a complete redesign.”

Gonzalez said the students are super excited to tackle this project especially knowing what the robot is intended to do.

“The students have always had the creativity and freedom to build whatever it is they desire,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve built everything from t-shirt launchers to a remote-control couch for their amusement and robots for competition. But, with this project, in partnership with Donna ISD police, they’ve seen the things that they build in class can actually be used and taken for a greater good to help the community be safe, remain safe and prevent terrible things from happening.”

Student Victoria Cortez shared her enthusiasm. “It makes me feel great because we’re helping our law enforcement,” Cortez said. “I know I’m making a change in this world. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl.”

While it may be too early to tell of the impact, Gonzalez believes projects like this one are inspiring his students. “Having this robot in the classroom and exposure that they have to it is definitely going to make a lot of them pursue a career in robotics, computer science or other STEM related field,” Gonzalez said. “You can see it on their faces. They light up when they walk into class and they’re eager to work on it.”