Robotics team looks forward to next winter

HUDSON–It’s the end of the school year and thoughts of teachers and students alike turn to final exams, graduation and the summer ahead. But at least two teachers at Hudson High School can’t wait for the next school year to begin.

Technology teachers Jack Beyer and Bruce Buhler, faculty advisors to Hudson High School’s FIRST Robotics Team 1665, Weapons of Mass Construction, say their team came in 19th at the FIRST regional competition held at the Hartford Civic Center last March where they played in an alliance two other regional teams. They say that’s the best showing the team has made and they’re certain they can improve by the time the finals are held early next spring.

After a grueling, six-week build period last January and February, and an adrenaline pumping three-day competition, Mr. Beyer and Mr. Buhler and veteran team members say they are ready to do it all over again, while other students are asking how they can join.

Hudson Team 1665 became the 165th team to join the competition 10 years ago when KAZ, Inc. CEO Richard Katzman heard about the competition and suggested Hudson compete. Even though the KAZ plant no longer operates in Hudson, Mr. Katzman still sponsors the team, paying their entrance fee.

The robotics year began January 5, when teams from all over the greater Capital Region congregated at the Darrin Communication Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy to see this year’s problem presented in a video telecast on NASA TV and to view a sample competition set-up.

The challenge posed by FIRST, the organization founded in 1991 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, was to create a robot that can load Frisbees either from a wall slot or off the floor, toss them into narrow slots cut into a Plexiglas wall at different heights, each with different number of points attached. It was supposed to climb to one of three rungs on a 90 inch high pyramid constructed from steel pipes where it had the opportunity to place Frisbees atop a high platform for even more points.

To be competitive, robots weighing up to 120 pounds, must turn on a dime, move quickly, remain upright, and respond to signals. Robots must also function autonomously controlled by an internal program for a short period at the beginning of each match. A collective groan erupted in the hall when the challenge was announced

The FIRST mission is to make science, engineering, and technology as appealing to kids as rock music. Successful participation on a robotics team makes students eligible for numerous college engineering scholarships. Last year over 280,000 students participated worldwide along with over 100,000 coaches, mentors and volunteers.

New robotics software, vision systems, acoustic range finders, sonar, infrared proximity detectors, optical encoder kits, and more can be used to boost the robot’s performance. They could be used as long as the total cost of construction came in under $4,000. Hudson did not take advantage of all of these options but kept its costs around $2,000.

Good sportsmanship, civility and gracious professionalism are encouraged among competitors as is networking with other teams from one year to the next. Hudson robotics team member Claire Villanova catalogued the team buttons she collected at last year’s competition in anticipation of catching up with them at this year’s competition. Comparing robotic solutions and exchanging ideas and offering assistance when needed is part of the game and the education.

The design process begins with brainstorming and strategy. Mr. Buhler, whose expertise is in mechanical drawing, drove the effort by sketching ideas which were subsequently fine tuned. Precise measurements and calculations led to parts fabrication. The whole team participated in the building process, fabricating components, threading bolts, constructing, and trouble shooting.

Student programmers James Chaplin, Kody Pinkowski, Oswaldo Rosete-Garcia and Loren Kilmer programmed the robot after an intensive workshop in JAVA programming language with help from RPI sophomore physics major and robotics mentor Ryan Roussel, who communicated daily with the programmers via Skype. During the process, Mr. Roussel heard that he had been accepted into the USC Physics Ph.D. program for next year although he is only a sophomore.

“The less I have to do, the more successful the process will be,” said Mr. Roussel, who later said he wrote only a few lines of the program.

“This is the only way to learn programming here,” said Oswaldo.

Zack Krein started out with the programming team but may have had less time than others. He was one of the few to be accepted into a QUESTAR III/BOCES course that teaches students how to program industrial milling machines.

Junior Kaitlyn Krein tracked the parts receipts and created an expense record, a competition entrance requirement. All pitched in to sell tickets to a pancake breakfast and assist at the event when the team had a fundraiser at Applebee’s Restaurant.

Twelve team members traveled to the three-day competition where Alan Graziano drove the robot from a Plexiglas command center using remote controls. He was assisted by Claire Villanova and Kody and coached by Mr. Roussel. Megan and Shannon LaChance threw Frisbees to score extra points during the part of the competition that called for human participation. Each robot was paired with two other robots to compete in a group called an alliance. The Hudson robot spent much of its time performing a defensive role but still scored 10-12 points each match, said Mr. Beyer. Other team members who traveled to Hartford included Jose Melendez, Jesus Melendez, Jenifer Rosete-Garcia, and Frankie O’Neil.

And at least four team members have decided to apply to college engineering programs.

 

 

 

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