By Robin Alberti
Past probe Rutland Area Robotics team
Students have six-weeks to prepare for competition
By Robin Alberti
Stafford Technical Center held its annual first robotics competition kickoff this past Saturday, Jan. 9. The Rutland Area Robotics team (IBOTS 2370) is partnered with Stafford and is open to any student in grades 8-12. Saturday’s event was the worldwide unveiling of this year’s competition specifications. It marks the beginning of the six-week build season before teams travel and compete regionally. All teams around the world simultaneously received the information via a webcast.
Each year a different challenge is presented by FIRST Robotics. Each team that competes gets a kit of parts and a manual describing the exact field of play, the tasks that need to be performed, and the obstacles the robots need to overcome. The field this year features a castle courtyard, with defenses that need to be breached, and dynasties that need to be captured. Tasks include getting past walls and moats, and throwing boulders into the windows of the other team’s castle.
Disney Imagineering designed this year’s challenge.
Dan Roswell, director of the IBOTS 2370, has been working with Rutland area students for nine years. He is excited about this year’s challenge. “The first thing we must do is really understand the game,” Roswell said. “The kids need to be able to comprehend and follow the directions.”
Once the team figures out its strategy, it will begin designing the robot with computer-aided design (CAD) software. Before the competition the robot will need to be programmed and tested. If it doesn’t work, then back to the drawing board it will go.
Forest Immel, a former Robotics team member, is now a mentor for the program. “I started in eighth grade,” Immel explained. “This is my 12th year as either a student or mentor. It is great to see kids have something they can be excited about.”
Forest Immel has pursued a career in technology, landing an IT job at the high school.
Abby Wright, a senior from Fair Haven Union High School, joined the team this year, after moving to Vermont from Baltimore. She takes classes at Stafford through the STEM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.) The STEM program works with area students three hours a day, five days a week, on subjects like 3D modeling, auto CAD, 3D printing, laser cutting and computer-integrated manufacturing. Wright plans to earn a degree in bio-medical engineering.
When asked about the IBOTS 2370 program, Wright said, “It’s an extra opportunity to apply the skills I learning in STEM.”
Brendan Harvey of West Rutland High School said he gave up basketball for the first time this year in order to be able to focus on the robotics competition. “I like competition, and this challenges me,” he said. “It is something that I am interested in. Stafford Tech allows me to focus on stuff I like to do.”
Dean Kamen of Manchester, N.H., founded FIRST Robotics 25 years ago. His goal was to turn kids on to science and technology careers. He believes students need to look towards the future, creating solutions for tomorrow, not get stuck in today. He encourages students to be open-minded, an important skill today with technology changing so quickly. By creating an inspirational after-school-program, FIRST Robotics can show kids that there are real-world applications for algebra, physics, and many other disciplines, which he hopes will give students a reason to pay attention and learn in school.
The IBOTS 2370 team at Stafford will be working on their project for the next six weeks, meeting every day after school and on the weekends, preparing for the competition.
There are two regional competitions, at the University of New Hampshire and at Worcester Polytechnic in Massachusetts. The world championships are in St Louis, Missouri.
Each competition lasts three days and the entry fee is $5,000. The team relies primarily on local sponsors and donations to cover these costs.