In Third Year of Robotics Team, MHS Goes to International Tech Challenge

Photo courtesy of Emma Kaneti: The MHS Robotics Team pictured last year at a competition

The MHS robotics team, a group of about 20 students interested in the STEM fields, has begun an exciting third year preparing for the For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge. The members collaborate in groups to design, build, and program a robot that will compete against others during three events in December and January.

The FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC, is one of three annual international building challenges organized by FIRST, a nonprofit that aims to guide children in grades seventwelve towards exploring the fields of engineering and computer science in a teamwork-based setting. Founded in 2005, FIRST is based on a sports model: teams compete with each other in order to win in events.

In the FTC, teams have a tenweek period to build their robot before the qualifying tournaments begin. At these tournaments, the teams are graded based on their robot’s performance, as well as an evaluation by judges of their teamwork, community outreach and engineering notebook, a cumulative log that showcases their progress throughout the season. Top-scoring teams are invited to a series of selective tournaments, ending with the world championship in St. Louis. The winners gain access to millions of dollars in scholarships.

Though the competitions may seem intimidating, they have a welcoming atmosphere. The FIRST group’s core value is “gracious professionalism.” As the group explains, “With gracious professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions… knowledge, competition and empathy are comfortably blended.”

Last year, Mamaroneck’s team qualified for the regional tournament with a robot, affectionately nicknamed the “Noicebot,” which used an extendable arm to pull itself up the steep ramp of the “ResQ Challenge.”

This year’s challenge is named the “Velocity Vortex.” It requires robots to score plastic balls in either a central spinning basket or one of two ramps on opposite corners of the playing field. The game consists of a short autonomous period followed by the longer driver-controlled period.

The Mamaroneck team has begun prototyping a mechanical device mounted on a chassis that uses spinning wheels to shoot balls up into the central basket. Mr. Love, the MHS engineering teacher and club advisor, stated that, “The number one goal is to qualify again. And to run the team more like a business.” The members have been divided into two groups, each working on a different design. The club plans to combine the best aspects of each model in the final robot.

The team has already attended several exciting events this year. To kick off the season, they watched the unveiling of this year’s challenge at Pace University on Sept. 10. Several members also worked on community awareness by letting children at the Central School Scare Fair try driving the robot. The team recently partnered with the LarchmontMamaroneck STEM Alliance, running a trivia booth at the STEM Alliance’s evening at the Derecktor Shipyard in Mamaroneck.

The team has a fundraising goal of $20,000: $14,000 as an annual cost and a one-time equipment cost of $6,000. The money raised will cover competition fees, transportation, tools, robot parts and furniture for the club’s room, B-224. Last year, the Robotics team received a generous MSF grant.

According to Mr. Love, the robotics team is “always looking for new members,” including students not taking a course in computer science or engineering. The club applies FIRST’s concept of “gracious professionalism,” creating a welcoming environment. As Mr. Love said, “We can be successful without making someone else unsuccessful.”

By James Anderson


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