RUTLAND—A Rutland area robotics team will be headed to St. Louis, Mo., in April to compete in the FIRST® World Championships. FIRST sponsors robotics and technical competitions for students at all levels. The Robo-Rattlers compete at the FLL level, where students aged 9 through 12 design, build and program a LEGO robot to complete missions autonomously on a 4-foot by 8-foot game field.
Each year, the program has a new theme. This year’s theme is Animal Allies. Robot tasks this year include: gathering and moving food to feed animals, transporting a shark tank, operating a milking machine, and hanging the robot on a wall. Teams also investigate and create a solution for a real-world problem related to the theme. The Robo-Rattlers tackled the problem of pets left in hot cars and designed and manufactured a cooling system that closes into a car’s window and runs off the car battery. The system texts regular temperature updates to owners and even sends warnings if the temperature is rising too high.
The Robo-Rattlers are the first Vermont FLL team to attend the World Championships. The iBOTS, another Rutland team competing in FRC, the next level up, attended the World Championships last year. The Robo-Rattlers have appeared on WSYB on the Kenn Hayes show twice, and they have a show on PEGTV called “Robots on the Radar.”
The Robo-Rattlers have competed at the FLL level for four years. Currently, there are nine kids on the team from all over the Rutland area. Through this program, they have learned computer programming, engineering design and construction, electronics, public speaking and presentation skills, leadership and teamwork, and other essential life skills.
Scott McCalla, one of the Robo-Rattlers’ coaches, said that he’s excited to see the kids experience the global scientific community at the World Championships. “It will be so great for our kids to meet and learn from so many other teams from all over the globe.”
Karen McCalla, another coach for the team, says that the experience will be priceless. “It’s so exciting,” she said. “There is an Innovation Faire at the Championships that features tech demonstrations and hands-on activities for the kids, so they’ll get to see cutting-edge new products, meet with real-life robotics engineers and scientists as well as learn about potential career paths. This is so much more than just a competition!”
“The kids have worked really hard and it’s great so see them grow so much over the years that they have participated. Public speaking, project planning, working with a group, what FLL calls ‘core values,’ are such great skills for all these kids moving forward no matter where their educational and work paths take them. These are the ‘soft skills’ that every employer and college looks for,” said Randal Smathers, a parent of two children on the team.
“I love working on the project because creativity is a specialty, “ said team member Samantha Merrow, age 12. “It allows for hands-on fun while inventing and learning about various interesting topics. It makes your brain think in different ways and gives you opportunities to gain information on topics you might not have been exposed to before.”
Currently, the Robo-Rattlers are working hard to get ready for the stepped-up competition at Worlds and also raising money to help offset their travel costs, including hotels, gas and food for the four-day competition. For more info visi, roborattlers.org or their GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/roborattlers.
The Robo-Rattlers team pictured (r-l) back row: Scott McCalla (coach), Drew Frankenberg, Emelia McCalla, Alec Harding, Maxwell McCalla, Karen McCalla (coach). Front row: Kyle Frankenberg, Finnian Smathers, Jonas Harding, Callum Smathers, Samantha Merrill.