TROY — The FTC Robotics team, WACO Aerobotics No. 5140, is about to fly to exciting new heights.
Advancing from state level competitions, the team will be traveling to the First Tech Challenge U.S. Super-Regional Championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, held March 15-17.
The team of local students, ages 13-17, work together to design, program, and construct a robot capable of completing a series of challenges in an allotted period of time.
Team members include Drake Beatty, 14, of Troy, Cassie Lovelock, 13, of Donnellsville, Noah Lovelock, 15, of Donnellsville, Arabella Partee, 14, of Casstown, and Isaac Partee, 14, of Casstown, Jarod Savard, 14, of Enon, and David Vance, 15, of Troy.
The team is led this year by Dave Barth, who has taught robotics at Edison State Community College for 17 years.
“This is my first year leading the team at this level,” Barth said. “My experience before this was with the First LEGO League. At this level, the team can make their own parts for the robot. With LEGO, you’re limited by parts that are pre-made by the company. The possibilities are broader, so the team can get a lot more creative this way.”
According to team members, the assigned tasks seem simple, but getting the robot to accomplish them is much more complicated.
“Every game, there are four of us on the field, and in each round we’re trying to complete the same objectives,” said Isaac Partee, who programs for the team. “What we do is collect 6-inch foam blocks, scoring them into cryptoboxes, and grab plastic men to place onto a designated mat, which gives you extra points. There’s 30 seconds of autonomous activity, and the rest is driver-controlled.”
Beginning late last summer, the team began to devote countless hours in order to create as efficient a robot as possible.
“There’s a lot of prototyping that happens,” Isaac Partee said. “From day one, we talked about doing a closing claw. Originally, we had two claws that rotated, but it was just too slow. We tested general ideas to see what angles to place things and how fast they needed to run. Eventually, we came up with the idea to use a bucket. We prototype a lot, and are always testing stuff to look for new ideas on how to develop.”
“Computer-assisted drafting allows us to design the entire robot on the computer,” said Vance, one of the team’s computer designers.
“We have intake wheels that move side to side,” explained Savard, one of the team’s engineers. “Previously those weren’t allowed, but it opened options once they were. We also have an elevator that allows us to move blocks up and down our tray that will flip blocks to drop into columns. Those columns are scored and points are given to us.”
During tournament rounds, robots are controlled by the team with basic gaming controllers, and communicate with team members using basic cellular technology.
“There’s two Android phones that communicate,” Arabella Partee said. “There’s one called the driver’s station phone, and then there’s a phone on the robot, and they’re constantly communicating back and forth.”
“Every year, the challenges are different,” Barth said. “In September, they found out what the challenges were. They worked on it until the first competition in early December. After that, they continued to refine and make changes until a second competition in January. They refined even more before the state competition in February. Even now, they’re still developing before super-regionals.”
Currently, there are four super-regional tournaments held within the U.S., each hosting 72 teams. Should the team place in Cedar Rapids, they will continue to the World Championship in Detroit, Mich., held April 25-28.
“We competed in tournaments to qualify for the Ohio State Championship,” Isaac Partee said. “We placed third at that competition, and we’re advancing from there. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
The team explained that their success, while triumphant, has presented financial obstacles that currently have the team immersed in fund raising.
“Each year, we have to make a budget for ourselves,” Arabella Partee explained. “WACO will give us donations to fill in that budget, but we also have to go out and do fund raising and sponsorships ourselves. We did a lot of that earlier this year, but unfortunately due to how far we’ve come with the robot, we have to do it again. We’re really close to our deadline, so we’re hoping to gain more donations from people around the area. It’s a lot of money, because we have six families going.”
“We’ll probably go door-to-door at different companies that sponsor us,” Isaac Partee said. “WACO is a 501(c)(3), so it’s all tax-deductible.”
Overall, the seven members of the team feel their experience in WACO Robotics has allowed them to build rewarding skills they’ll utilize in the future.
“When I joined, I hadn’t programmed at all,” Isaac Partee said. “Just through this program, I was able to learn a decent amount of Java. I’m looking at pursuing a career in computer science. I’m the programmer for the team, so that’s something that really interests me.”
“I’ve been looking into computer design,” Beatty said. “Computer design has been my job with the team this year, and it’s been great.”
“I’m the graphic designer for the team,” said Cassie Lovelock. “I’m not knowledgable in robotics, but I’m knowledgable in making banners and documenting for engineering notebooks. I’m looking to pursue graphic design.”
All other members of the team voiced an interest in pursuing careers in computer design, business, and engineering.
“It’s been a great experience for learning, but it’s also just nice to do something with friends,” Arabella Partee said. “We’ve all gotten to be very close.”
For more information, visit www.wacoairmuseum.org, or find WACO Aerobotics FTC #5140 on Facebook.
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