MARLBOROUGH – The Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School AZTECHS robotics team recently won recognition for its creativity in a competition held in Waterville, Maine.
The award specifically notes creativity that was intentionally designed to improve the quality of play, rather than being simply serendipitous.
This was all part of an event organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which is a high school program designed to immerse students in a real-world engineering scenario by competing in strategically designed games.
Student teams compete with other high schools and are expected to conceptualize, design, assemble and learn to drive a 125-pound remote-controlled robot to solve a specific problem. Volunteer mentors lend their expertise along the way.
Going modular was the key
Nolan Carey, a student team member, explained that his team’s choice to design their robot in modular fashion was what earned the award.
“It’s not one big assembly, so we can work on different sections at a time while the programmers work on other parts,” Carey told the Community Advocate.
Carey was instrumental in designing the frame, gear box, and lift mechanism associated with Assabet’s robot.
Team separates coding from assembly
One of the student programmers, Eric Edwards, agreed that the modular system gave programmers like him an advantage.
“[It] made coding easier in that we could write simulated code before the systems were actually done, and then just modify accordingly,” he said.
When teammates wanted to test one mechanism, Edwards was able to remove the piece that he was programming without causing a pause in production of other assemblies.
Edwards credits his experience with VEX robotics at Marlborough’s Whitcomb Middle School for sparking his interests, but said he has learned a lot since then, now being able to code to industry standards.
Besides programming, Edwards is a member of the robotics team’s drive team, operating various functions on competition days to complete challenges.
Team named Robot ‘Mantis’
Max Sivert is the other member of the drive team alongside Edwards.
As his team’s captain, Sivert’s role included supervising a large part of the robot’s assembly.
He said he feels his best work was designing an intake system to pick up game balls as part of challenges, though.
“We named the robot Mantis because with the arms extended forward it resembles a praying mantis,” he said, referencing that intake system.
Team enjoys many contributions
Juliette Hughes was documenting practice runs with her camera throughout this process, while David Shwartz commented that this is his first year with the program. He said he regrets not joining sooner.
Shwartz said he learned some programming ahead of Assabet’s Waterville competition. He also handled some of the team’s public relations.
One of the team’s freshman members, Ethan Reed, has been busy learning about mechanical engineering and computer aided design software. He said he feels that he will have learned enough to begin specializing his contributions to the team next year.
Assabet holds long robotics history
Assabet has enjoyed a long history of success with robotics dating back to 1992.
Marcus Fletcher, the adviser for the current group, was actually a student member between 1997 and 1999, when he graduated.
He has mentored the team in every year since and now works as a paraprofessional at Assabet. He has made the program a year-round activity, also encouraging the team to participate in community events, such as Toys for Tots drives, food drives, and outreach opportunities at local festivals.
“I can’t think of any better way to give kids a real taste of what the engineering process is all about and let them have a blast at the same time,” Fletcher said, noting that the majority of graduates who leave Assabet after participating in the robotics program go on to study in a STEM field in college.
“[That] makes us very proud, and the time spent worthwhile,” Fletcher said.
AZTECHS continue season
Assabet’s trip to Waterville was but one of several competitions this year.
The team was recently back in action this weekend, competing at an event in Shrewsbury.
They made it to the quarterfinals of that competition on Sunday. They’ll now be back in action next month with an event at Worcester Polytechnic Institute between April 8 and April 10.
This year’s challenge game at each of these FIRST events is titled Rapid React. Visit www.firstinspires.org to see an animation of the game and it rules and requirements.