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Pontotoc Students Testdrive Military Robots

By Sandra Knispel | Published 12 Jan 2012 09:56am | comments
At Pontotoc High School Master Sergeant Terry Walker, operations chief for the U.S. military’s robotics systems joint project office, is directing a group of ninth graders to maneuver a military robot outside in the parking lot.

Most teenagers in this country, at one time or another, have held the controls of a Sony PlayStation or Xbox in their hands, playing video games. But very few have used them to direct real-life military robots. MPB’s Sandra Knispel explains why students in Pontotoc were among the lucky few.

"Go towards the truck. Slow, slow, slow. Keep going, keep going. Ok, now stop."

Looking out through a window at Pontotoc High School, Master Sergeant Terry Walker, operations chief for the U.S.  military’s robotics systems joint project office, is directing a ninth grader with an Xbox control in hand to drive a robot outside in the parking lot right under a parked Pepsi truck.

"You're going to use this to scroll up. So, push that up. Ok."

A group of students is monitoring the robot’s path via video images, which it relays live into the classroom. At $80,000 it’s probably the most expensive toy ninth grader Brandon Jenkins has ever laid his hands on.

[Reporter: What does it feel like?] Jenkins: "Weird, hard to drive." [Reporter: Exciting?] “It is exciting.”

Currently, the U.S. military is using some 2,000 military robots in Afghanistan. Dana Yowchuang is a military robotic trainer.

“Back in the day, the men used to strap on big bomb suits and they would poke at objects and hopefully make it go boom. And we would lose at lot of good people that way.”

Instead robots are used now to detect explosives. The larger ones can even drag injured or dead soldiers out of the line of fire. Sergeant Major Milton C. Elliott, a commandant for the First Army Training Academy at Camp Shelby, hopes to spark technical interest in the students.

“They can see the technology that goes into building these robots. There’s a vast array of career fields – other than robotics. There’s machinists, there’s engineers, there’s draftsmen, there’s electronic technicians."

The idea of bringing the robots to school was hatched during a chance encounter at an airport when a Pontotoc Gold Star mother, whose son was killed in Iraq, met robotic trainer Yowchuang and convinced her to come to Pontotoc with her fleet of robots.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News.

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At Pontotoc High School Master Sergeant Terry Walker, operations chief for the U.S. military’s robotics systems joint project office, is directing a group of ninth graders to maneuver a military robot outside in the parking lot.


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