WARREN, NJ - The WHRHS Robotics Team, the RoboWarriors, in their three-team alliance, placed second in the FIRST Robotics Mid-Atlantic Mt. Olive Event on March 5 and 6. Individually, the team placed 17 out of 39 teams representing local New Jersey and Pennsylvania area high schools.
FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is a not-for-profit charity organization based in Manchester New Hampshire founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is one of several programs run by FIRST. FRC, dubbed a “varsity sport for the mind,” combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It is as close to “real world” engineering as a student can get.
Professional mentors volunteer their time and talents to guide each team.
FRC designs a new and unique robotics challenge each year. The challenge is released in early January, and teams have six weeks to design and build a robot customized for the specific challenge. This six week period is referred to as “build season.” After the six week build season, teams participate in one or more district qualifying competitions. Based on their performance, a team may qualify to progress to the regional competition, and then to the championship in St. Louis in late April.
For 2016, there are over 3100 FRC teams overall, with more than 78,000 students participating.
The WHRHS RoboWarriors Robotics Team, called Team 41 within the FRC competition, was one of the first schools to join FRC in the late 1990’s. The team consists of approximately 50 WHRHS students, four faculty advisors, and two industry mentors/advisors. Team 41 is organized into multiple sub-teams, based on their specialties. The sub-teams are the Mechanical, Electrical, Coding, and Design teams. During build season, the team enthusiastically works many hours, often until 9 p.m. on weeknights and all day on Saturdays. The team is entirely self-taught, with the older experienced students training new members as they join. The industry mentors make it a point not to give the students answers, but rather to encourage critical thinking about pros and cons of approaches to the challenge and to ensure that the students themselves design and build the robot.
The team is sponsored by many organizations including Picatinny Arsenal which provides generous monetary support, and The Knotts Company which donates metal stock and connectors to build the robot frame. Team 41 is also supported by the Watchung Hills Education and Technology Foundation (WHEAT), which is a non-profit specifically designed to support the team. It is comprised primarily of parents of team members and provides financial and logistical support as well as any other assistance that might be needed.
In this year’s competition, called FIRST Stronghold, there is a medieval theme in which Alliances of three teams are on a Quest to score points bybreaching their opponents’ defenses (porticullises, moats, and drawbridges) and then shooting or rolling boulders through goals in the opposing team’s tower. In the final 20 seconds of the Quest, the robots may surround and scale the opposing tower to capture it for additional points. This year’s challenge (like most) emphasizes cooperation between the different teams. Since the alliances are rotated for each match, individual teams must cooperate with all of their competitors. Any team that is not able to work well with the others is unlikely to advance. In addition, by coordinating strategy with the other team members within their alliance, a team can take maximum advantage of its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses.
In the Mt. Olive competition, the Team 41 RoboWarriors had a solid showing in the qualifying portion of the competition. They were selected for the playoff portion of the competition, and moved on with wins in their quarterfinal and semifinal matches. The finals match went to a tie-breaker and the Team 41 three-team alliance barely lost in a heartbreaker by a score of 135 – 128 to place second in the competition.
The next event is another district qualifying competition in Montgomery, NJ on April 9 and 10. There are 37 teams scheduled to compete at this event. If the team has another strong performance, they will likely advance to the Mid-Atlantic Robotics District Championship Competition to be held at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. Placing in the top nine at Lehigh will lead to inclusion in the FIRST World Championship on April 27-30 in St. Louis, MO.