Robotics Club: MCSM And The FIRST Robotics Competition!

By Marco Gonzalez


Editor’s Note:  The Manhattan Center Robotics Club is one of the most popular and ambitious STEM-related clubs in our school.  As you can see in the team picture above, the MCSM Rambots comprise a diverse array of participants of different grades and ages, both male and female.  Each year our robotics team pits its engineering skills against robotics clubs from other schools.  First we compete locally, then regionally; always striving to build machines impressive enough to make it to the final national competition. This year we qualified to go to the 2017 First Robotics Championship finals, held in St. Louis, Missouri!   Sponsored by Qualcomm Incorporated, the FIRST Championship has been celebrating middle school and high school students who are interested in engineering and technology for over 25 years.  According to it’s website, the FIRST Robotics Competition (together with its companion event, the FIRST Innovation Faire)  is the oldest and largest student robotics program in the world, this year inviting competitors from more than 50 countries.


The mission statement of the First Robotics Competition is clear.  “The mission of First is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”  This year students were asked to bring their team-designed robots to compete on one of two themed playing fields:  the Velocity Vortex or the First Steamworks field.

FIRST is the organization that hosts the FIRST Robotics Competition in which our robotics team has competed for the past four years.  MCSM Rambots’ fourth year in the competition went really well. Our Rambots won in the regionals and made it all the way to the championship in St. Louis.  This year, like others, had a “steampunk” theme.   The objective was to collect enough “fuel” (or in this case, plastic balls)  into “furnaces”.  We had to collect and deliver gears to the flying contraption to get it to work.  Once it reached a certain point, the flying mechanism would “take-off” and the robots then had to physically climb a rope to go with the machine.
We interviewed several people who participated in this championship and asked each person the following three questions:  1. What were your expectations of the competition?  2. What were some strategic problems with the robot? And 3. Overall, how did you enjoy the competition?
Carlo, a senior in the robotics team who mainly focuses on the electric parts of the robot was interviewed. He said his expectation for the competition wasn’t very high, and says a major flaw during the competition was the coach switches during the matches. Nevertheless he enjoyed the event.  “It’s a fun experience,” he admits,  and he also recommends people to join the team to take part in this once in a lifetime experience.
Mahim, is a junior and this was his third year in robotics.  He had a high expectation of winning. To him, the problems overall had to do with the team making bad calls during the different matches. One other problem was that the robot wasn’t able to do to the last part of the game, which was to climb a rope near the end of each match.  He generally remembers the competition as “Stressful but fun.”
Jonathan is a junior and was the mechanical captain and driver. His expectation was to do a lot better. The strategic problem to him was that people get nervous during the matches. Overall he found the competitive experience to be great fun, and so was the city of St. Louis.
Rambots advisor Mr.Hernandez’s own expectation this year was to “ Expose students to engineering and to use their knowledge in science and math to solve problems. The problems we had with the robot was that instead of focusing on all three tasks, the robot was primarily focused on doing two. The regionals competition let them see this flaw in the robot, so I feel they could have been better prepared for the championship.”
Generally speaking, everyone who participated in the robotics competition had a really fun and interesting experience. Now since the senior members are leaving for college, the club needs new students who will take their place. Robotics will accept new members from any grade as long as they are committed to the team. Right now the robotics club is looking really good for the future.  Not only is it a perfect extra-curricular experience but it develops STEM skills that many colleges will really look at and appreciate.

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