MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Mahopac 7th grader Geo de Clermont thinks about the future and imagines a world of jet packs and hovering cars.
“Science and math are my favorite subjects,” he said. “I was always drawn toward science, making something or drawing something. I like science fiction books—books that talk about the future. There will be plenty of advancements in technology in the future; maybe you’ll get to hover to work in your car!”
De Clermont hopes to help make that happen. He’s taken an interest in robotics and has joined the Danbury chapter of the organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The group was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.
The Danbury organization has a formed a team it’s dubbed the League of Extraordinary Roboticists, a FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team. The mission of the team is to change the face of robotics by inspiring and engaging kids, females, minorities, and others with different abilities to get involved in STEAM—Science Technology Engineering Art and Math fields, in particular, robotics.
“We want to change the face of robotics and make more people aware of STEAM and technology,” de Clermont said. “I would like to see more people get involved. It may not be a path they were looking to go down, so we want to raise awareness.”
To do that, the group does a lot of community service throughout the year, such as demonstrating its robot at places like the Microsoft store at the Danbury Mall.
“We also go to a lot of career fairs and different school events,” de Clermont said.
The League of Extraordinary Roboticists team has been invited to the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis and is the only Connecticut entrant. No other Connecticut team made it past the regional competition, so de Clermont’s team was invited based on its high level of community service and outreach.
“The main object [of the competition] is to get as many points as you can on the play area with your robot,” he said. “They have different tasks like pick up a ball and throw it through a basket. You have to maneuver around each other, which makes it more challenging. You can block each other and there are penalties.”
But the group needs help getting to St. Louis. It has created a GoFundMe page (Gofundme.com/ler8699) to help fundraise for the cause. They need to raise at least $20,000.
“We need robot parts, airfare, food, hotels—everything,” de Clermont said. “We want our robot to be at peak performance.”
The robot that the group will enter into the national competition went through several incarnations before the young scientists got the one they wanted.
“We had multiple robots,” de Clermont said. “We had a scrimmage robot for demos, and then we started work on one that didn’t come out so great. Then we built our competition robot that works very well. It kind of evolved into what it is now.”
De Clermont attended Fulmar Road as an elementary school student but is currently home-schooled. However, he said he hopes to return next year to Mahopac Middle School where he took first place in the science fair on two occasions.
As a sixth grader, de Clermont won the science fair blue ribbon with his ultrasonic levitator, a device used to lift objects with sound waves.
“Mine was a small version and you could only lift things like foam balls,” he said. “But to make it, I needed parts from all different things.”
He won first place again this year by creating a plasma cutter.
“They’ve been around for a while, but I thought it would be quite a challenge to make one on my own,” he said. “They are used to cut metals to build cars, and by NASA to precision cut the exterior of space crafts. When you touch it to the metal, it completes the circuit and ionizes the air around what you are cutting and creates a fourth state of matter called plasma. That becomes so hot it burns through the metal. I did it with two classmates. It was a mini cutter so we could only cut through light metals like aluminum.”
De Clermont is optimistic they’ll be able to raise enough money to get to St. Louis for the competition.
“I am definitely excited about the trip. Our team never competed outside the state,” he said. “I am looking forward to networking and learning what is going on out there.”
As for his group’s effort to spread the word about robotics and have a more diverse demographic get involved, he says he already convinced one of his friends to join.
“He is actually going to join the team after the season is over,” he said. “He’s very interested now after I told him about it.”
For those who may be put off because they may feel intimidated by the subject matter, de Clermont says not to worry.
“Don’t be put off by it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and you learn a ton.”