Office of Environmental Management

WIPP Becomes Testing Ground for Robot Created by Students

May 29, 2018

You are here

Area high school students prepare a robot for testing in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground in early May, prior to an international robotics competition.
Area high school students prepare a robot for testing in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground in early May, prior to an international robotics competition.

CARLSBAD, N.M. – Area high school science and engineering students were looking for a real-life way to test the robot they created — in an environment like no other. A deputy project manager with the EM Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) management and operations contractor had the answer.

   “When I very first saw the robot, I knew these students had created something special that could be very beneficial to the nuclear industry and in the WIPP underground,” Nuclear Waste Partnership’s (NWP) Tammy Reynolds said. “I think the results speak for themselves.”

Left to right, Carlsbad High School science and engineering students Simon Armijo, Will Baggett, and Spencer Pennypacker test a robot in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground in early May in preparation for an international robotics competition.
Left to right, Carlsbad High School science and engineering students Simon Armijo, Will Baggett, and Spencer Pennypacker test a robot in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground in early May in preparation for an international robotics competition.

   Like other EM sites, WIPP is exploring the use of robotics for a variety of applications including monitoring radiological areas, checking conditions in areas of the underground where unstable ground conditions exist, and inspecting shafts leading to the WIPP underground.

   The Carlsbad High School (CHS) students tested the robot in WIPP to prepare for the international RoboRAVE competition in Albuquerque, N.M. RoboRAVE is a robotics education program that teaches students and teachers how to design, build, program, and test robots to perform a variety of tasks. The students finished fourth overall in the event held earlier this month.

   CHS seniors Simon Armijo and Will Baggett and junior Spencer Pennypacker developed and built the robot. The team, which won the 2017 National Robotics Challenge, is coached by CHS teacher Deborah Haggerton.

   “The original intent was to help save soldiers’ lives by sending in the robot for surveillance in dangerous, hostile situations,” Armijo explained. 

A robot designed and built by area high school students is tested in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground.
A robot designed and built by area high school students is tested in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground.

   As part of the RoboRAVE competition, the students produced a marketing video to promote their robot and its capabilities to perform tasks in a variety of industries. Testing the robot in the WIPP underground, which included maneuverability over different terrains in the underground and ensuring the radio control system worked properly, gave the CHS students an advantage over other teams in the competition, Armijo said.

   “WIPP may have opened the door to our future,” he said. 

   Reynolds said NWP wanted to create a great experience for the hardworking, enterprising students.

   “They really created an incredible machine, and NWP wanted to celebrate that accomplishment with them as they tested their robot in the WIPP underground,” Reynolds said. 

   The students and their robot competed against more than 350 teams at RoboRAVE.

   When asked if the trip to WIPP was beneficial, Armijo struggled to explain what the tour meant to him and his teammates. “I don’t even know how to explain it,” Armijo said. 

An area high school student tests a robot underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in early May.
An area high school student tests a robot underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in early May.
Email Updates
To receive the latest news and updates about the Office of Environmental Management, submit your e-mail address.