The club, flourishing in its third year, is participating in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge, in which teams are challenged to design, build and program a robot capable of collecting racquetballs, placing the balls into crates and moving the crates into a safe zone. Some of the racquetballs are imbedded with magnets. If the team’s robot can separate the magnet balls from the rest of the lot and drop them off in a specially marked slot, the team scores more points. And as if that weren’t difficult enough, the robot must also be equipped with a device to pilot a bowling ball across the field, up a ramp and into a basin on the start deck.
The challenge lasts only 2½ minutes. The first 30 seconds is autonomous, which means the robot must be programmed to work on its own without student assistance. Students drive the robot for the remaining two minutes.
Teams are randomly partnered into alliances to battle other teams. Teams who are partners in one round might be opponents in the next. Their overall score is based on team performance in each round.
Although the Heritage team didn’t score the most points at its qualifying competition in January, the team impressed judges and was presented with the Inspire Award, the highest honor given to the best overall team that takes the challenges well beyond expectation. Using feedback from the judges, the Heritage team is now improving on its initial design to take on 31 teams at the Northern California Tournament on March 4. The winner of that competition goes to the world championships in St. Louis.
“I’m really impressed with the team we have this year,” said Robert Pardi, robotics instructor and club advisor. “This is the most dedicated group of students I’ve worked with. They learned a lot at the qualifier and I think they have a chance to take the top spot. There are a lot of good schools competing this year, but I think we’re up for the challenge.”
The students spend five hours per week working on the robot, which they named Asimov in honor of author Issac Asimov, who wrote the Three Laws of Robotics in his 1942 short story “Runaround,” which was later featured in the anthology “I, Robot.” Asimov is aluminum based, weighs roughly 30 pounds and consists of more than 1,000 parts.
Lead designer and Heritage senior Michael Kintscher has been diligently working on modifications that allow the robot to separate magnet balls from regular balls with the help of a sensor.
“This has been a fun project,” said Kintscher. “I’ve been into design since I started playing with Legos as a little kid. So to get to design and build a robot is pretty cool.”
Holly Kraeber, the team’s manager and Robotics Club president, also enjoys the challenge of the FIRST competition. “We first got the rules of the challenge in September, and we’ve been working on it ever since. We’ve got a great team. Everyone has their own role and together I think we’ve got a really good robot. I’m looking forward to March.”
Pardi said he’s pleased that more female students are taking an interest in the robotics program and have joined the club. Kintscher’s younger sister Brittany, a freshman, is also on the team, serving as documentarian with club secretary Joseph Cliscagne. Together they maintain a team notebook that chronicles the team’s progress.
“I’ve been to competitions with my brother, and it seemed really interesting,” said Brittany. “Robotics isn’t something you usually get to do in school. It’s one big logic puzzle, and I love logic puzzles. I would have joined the club even if my brother wasn’t into it.”
The team, sponsored by Bishop-Wisecarver, is rounded out by programmers Josh Wood and Jacob Olsen, pro-engineering designer Zack Crosely, assistant designer Zach Meyer and community outreach specialist Logan Dorsey.
When the team isn’t working on the FIRST Tech Challenge, its students serve as mentors to the local FIRST Lego League, based at Bricks4Kids in Brentwood.