Robotics is lesson in teamwork

0
920

Freshman Brooke Clements makes adjustments to the Homestead High School robotics team project.

The Homestead High School robotics team picked up valuable experience but no awards in its first contest this year. Faculty team leader Robert Steverson said the group will shape that experience into teamwork in remaining challenges.

Homestead is the only Fort Wayne school entered in First Robotics.

The class finished six weeks of design and building the evening of Feb. 20, and then sealed the 2018 robot for the First Power Up Challenge March 10 and 11 at Mishawaka Penn High School.

Homestead also was scheduled to compete March 24 and 25 at Plainfield High School. Points from regional competitions will be combined, and the 32 top teams from Indiana will advance to the state round. Eight teams from Indiana will advance to the First Power Up world championships in Detroit in late April. More than 91,000 high school students worldwide are competing in the arcade-themed robotics challenge.

The teams learned their challenges and picked up some basic parts early in January.

Team captain Logan Roser and co-captain Hannah Parks are among the six seniors on the Homestead team.

“We had six weeks to design and build a robot,” Roser said. The first two weeks was dedicated to design. “From there we actually started building chassis parts,” he said.

Three schools form alliances for the first challenge, and those alliances change over the 12 challenges throughout the day. Secrets thus pass from ally to rival. It boils down to basic professionalism and communication, the leaders agreed.

“They will know your strategies,” Parks said. “So it’s important to make the most robust robot.”

Parks likened the challenge to a video game. “Essentially the field is one giant scale in the middle. It’s 7 feet tall and there are two switches on either side,” she said. The robot has to reach to the top and grab a 13-inch bar. As with a video game, there are opportunities to add points.

The first 15 seconds of the competition is fully programmed. The balance of the 2-minute challenge is up to the remote driver and an operator to direct the arms and to lift.

“They’re desperately trying to get everything done,” Steverson said on the final construction evening. “The weight limit is 120 [pounds] and they weighed the robot and it was 119, so they’re actually trying to lose some weight.”

The student leaders said aesthetics are important, too.

That means the right colors, attractive pneumatic tubing, and the right layout, Parks said. “There are actually a couple of us who look at this.”

The team has flipped the color pattern on their T-shirts this year, and on the banner across the NASCAR-like parts and repair pit that they set up at each competition. The T-shirts still have the Homestead colors, but this year the team is going with yellow shirts with blue letters.

Roser said the program is a lesson in robotics, but also a lesson in business. “We have our own fundraising, our community outreach, our mechanical and electrical program,” he said. “I was able to hone a lot of machining skills so I can roll out parts all day long. And then going and talking with companies is big. We get more comfortable with it, asking for donations of money or parts.”

The class asked for community support the evening of Feb. 21, when Buffalo Wild Wings on Coventry Lane donated 10 percent of the evening’s food tab to Olympus Robotics. “We received excellent support at the wings night fundraiser,” Steverson said. “It was a relaxing environment where team members, their families and mentors were able to relax, reflect on the season, and generate some funds to help with team expenses.”

Matt Elder also instructs Homestead High School Robotics Team No. 4982.

“Our competition in Mishawaka was … challenging,” Steverson said in an email. “For most of the competition it seemed like, if it could possibly go wrong then it did. The team had to deal with multiple mechanical failures throughout the event and was often just working to field a functional robot. On the bright side, this created an environment that stimulated a lot of learning for our team members. The challenges of dealing with adversity while still maintaining a positive outlook were excellent learning events for our team members. I am also glad to say that our students rose to the challenge. They focused on how to improve going forward and celebrated their small victories, instead of focusing on how everything seemed to work against them. It would have been easy for them to simply give up but instead they worked through the event to make the best showing possible. While they finished near the bottom of the rankings and did not win any awards, they did come out of the event with a plan for moving forward and came to realize that sometimes you don’t always succeed. Many of the students felt that this was an ‘off year’ where we were not really competitive but did learn some new skills. Now the students are focused on possible improvements to make for the next event. While they all realize that winning our next event is highly unlikely, they universally feel that they can and need to show improvement from our last event.”

Steverson said Homestead’s robotics program is in its fifth year. Also from northeast Indiana, Huntington County 4-H Robotics sponsors Team Thrust. Team 1501 was a finalist at Mishawaka Penn, finishing fourth with 54 points. The Comets of Grand Rapids, Mich., finished first, with 73 points.

“We’d like to see more in Fort Wayne,” Steverson said. “Kokomo has four teams, Indy has almost 22. We’re trying to get people aware and get them to see what’s involved and trying to help grow the program.”

As of the final construction evening, the 2018 robot had not been named. Earlier names have included Exploding Fruit Salad and Exploding Fruit Salad 2.0. Roser and Parks said the 2018 name might follow that theme. The robots are all cousins, Parks said. They have the same electrical components, Roser said.

Both Roser and Parks plan to enroll in the Purdue University Polytechnic Institute in the fall. Roser will major in aeronautical engineering technology. Parks will study robotics engineering technology.

First Power Up is organized by First Robotics Competition. Get program details at www.firstinspires.org.