Friday, February 1, 2013
Ready, set, go! The 2013 FIRST Robotics challenge was unveiled Jan. 5. For the next several weeks, the noise you hear coming from the back of the Merrimack High School is a team of 55 students and 15 mentors working together to build a robot that will do the seemingly impossible.
Dubbed a varsity Sport for the Mind, FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sports with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources and time restraints, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.
This year’s challenge involves building a robot from scratch and having it perform an autonomous Frisbee-throwing scoring segment for a 15-second period. It will then proceed to work in a team with other robots to find and throw Frisbees into scoring targets of varying heights. Finally the robot will climb a 10 foot structure to gain additional points. All of this will be done in less than three minutes.
Sounds impossible, right? And yet FIRST teams all over the United States will design and build robots that will be able to successfully compete in a regional and eventually national challenge. Just how do high school kids even get started on a project like this?
It starts well before the build season begins. In early October, explained Isabelle Beauregard Merrimack High School Chop Shop 166 Team Captain, the team starts meeting in groups and works on learning and perfecting mechanical engineering, animation and Chairman Committee skills.
“Team members don’t just learn engineering skills, they also learn skills like how to present, how to talk in front of people, time management skills, working in a group of people, and having friendships.” said Beauregard, a sophomore.
“We also learn how to work in a sometimes really noisy environment,” added senior Nick Bouressa, the other FIRST Team Captain, who was referring to the noise made by the saws used to cut pieces to specification for the robots.
When they are not in build season, team members form respect and close friendships by spending an average of 10 hours a week learning technical skills, being involved in charities, and running events like a local competition and a summer Lego camp.
Once the competition is announced during that first weekend in January, however, that’s when the team kicks into high gear. This year, the team spent the following two days in strategy sessions, where they all pitched ideas on how to solve the 2013 challenge. Once agreement was reached, they broke off into their sub-teams led by leads, and started the task of designing and building the robot. The FIRST team has a well-oiled, organized work methodology perfected from their years of guidance and competition.
Sub-teams include the design team, which works on the specifics to design the robot. These plans are then passed onto the mechanical team, which then builds the robot. While this is all going on, the software team writes the code to make the robot work and the Chairman Committee team works on submission for the Chairman’s award.
“It’s addicting,” said Robert KillKelley, a junior, who leads the Mechanical Sub-team. “The coolest thing is that we are able to build a robot in only 6 weeks that will accomplish the challenge.”
On average, according to Bouressa, some of the team members spend up to 30 hours a week for the six weeks of build season.
“We go through a kind of withdrawal when we have to stop for the first competition but after that competition, there are always changes that have to be made before our next competition,” Bouressa said.
The MHS FIRST Robotics team will compete at the Verizon Center in Manchester on Feb. 28. The event is open to the public. The team will travel to Washington, D.C., where they will compete again on March 28, in the hopes of making it to the National Finals. For more information go to the team website at www.chop