Robotics team builds bonds from FIRST

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When it came time to compete against some of the best high school robotic engineers in the province, the Red Hawks learned they could hold their own.
The Hawks sent a team of eight to compete against 35 other high schools from all over Ontario at the second annual North Bay FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) Regional from March 26 to 28 at Nipissing University in North Bay.

Each team was partnered with two other schools to form an alliance, which would compete against another alliance, in a competition called Recycle Rush.

This  centred around a landfill scenario within an enclosed  indoor field where one robot per team had to organize, stack and transport containers, including picking up and placing noodles, or “trash” in either designated areas or into containers for points. Points were also awarded by stacking and moving containers onto designated point scoring areas. The opposing alliance could score points by throwing litter onto the opposing alliance’s side of the playing area to create “unprocessed litter” if  it was not moved to the landfill designated area before the round ended.

Curran Chambers, a Grade 12 student in a his first year with the team, said he didn’t expect team building to be so essential to this endeavor.

“I hadn’t realized how much teamwork there was in it. When you get there you have a team of four (competing in the round) and each person has a select role and then you have a minimum of 20 minutes before the next [round]. If there is something wrong with your robot everyone is in this small pit working together to fix it,” he said.

Ultimately, Chambers wants to become a mechanical engineer, but will study to be a robotic technician next year.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said.

Dan Fockler, the team’s faculty facilitator, said his team’s finish was reflective of some unfortunate alliances. The Hawks were only matched with one top five ranking team through 18 rounds of competition. In a few cases, the Red Hawks robot was left alone (through circumstance and when other robots were poorly designed and constructed) to score the majority of points. Alliances were switched every round and chosen randomly.

Second year competitor Johnathan Prestwich said the similarities between last year’s contest Aerial Assist and this year’s contest Recycle Rush were the importance  of communication and co-operation with other schools to  figure out strategies.

“Last year was a bit more competitive between the two sides because each alliance was facing each other, but this year it was each alliance was stuck on their own side to see whichever side was to get the most points,” he said. “You couldn’t interfere with the other team or anything like that. It was really all about working with your alliance.”

The Hawks were proud of their robot, which featured a set of arms that enabled efficient stacking and a strong ability to move and retrieve containers from the landfill area.

For Grade 12 student and first year robotics team member Jessica Karaguesian, this team offered a unique experience unlike anything else at the school.

“It was kind of one of the only science and technology based clubs at the school. There’s a lot of student activity, charity, such clubs. This was one where you actually get to apply the skills you learn in class and build something. It was a really good learning experience even when we went [to the competition],” she said.

Although her future aspirations are centred around the sciences, Jessica appreciated the opportunity for creativity, the hands-on aspect and the diversion quality of being able to work with a robot.
Second-year team member and Grade 11 student Cody Williams has his sights set on improving next year.
“We’ve set ground. We’re a little bit more established. Hopefully that will help with getting sponsors. Yes, we have been here a couple of times. We know what we’re doing. It’ll be nice to take it a little bit further again. We definitely improved from last year. It will be nice to continually improve to be a little bit better,” he said.
Williams said with the experience of last year the team was far more prepared.
Last year the team showed up to the competition with “tons of work” they had to do and this year the team had less to do. The experience from last year enabled them to work quicker and more efficiently when faced with challenges.
Williams said through competition, the team discovered their robot had weak arms  so between rounds the team not only resolved the issue by using stronger metal, but did it within the allotted time.
Highlands residents Jim and Joan Cochlin learned about the team through the Echo and made a “small donation” and then volunteered.
“From the time we were new teachers we both have been involved in coaching/mentoring school sports, government, exchanges, etc. We vastly enjoyed the involvement with young people. It seems a good idea to continue that sort of involvement into retirement,” Jim said.
They  donated time and money to the team, travelled with the Hawks to North Bay to help as “transporters and wakers-up of students” and cheered them on at the competition.
“We were excited to see the development and skill improvement of the team as the matches progressed. We were also enlightened by the long history and extensive donor support of many of the teams, in contrast to the short experience and limited donor potential of ours,” he said.
The couple are impressed by the leadership from Fockler and Dan Gimon, who has been with the team from the beginning.  They expect to continue to support the team by fundraising or whatever the team needs.
HHSS alumni  and former robotics team members Natasha Bradley and Sam Tyler also assisted the team.
Fockler noticed improvement from last year, specifically utilizing team members’ skills relevant for the competition.
“We worked together a lot better. We were more cohesive as a group and our skill set was a lot wider so we were a little more successful because we had people that could do various tasks for us,” he said.
FRC is an international high school robotics competition that gives students real-world engineering experience. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by inventor, entrepreneur and advocate for science and technology Dean Kamen in 1989.


Click here to see the original article on the Haliburton Echo.