Blue Prints

Robotics team has best season yet

Michael Katz, Staff Writer

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Students at the school already
have experience working in the
complex field of robotics that
pushes the limits of engineering.
By bringing together a variety of
STEM related fields, the VEXcompetition-based
robotics program
is a hub for applied science
in school and our home team, the
9909 teams.
As for the competition, VEX
Robotics is an organization with
standardized parts consisting of
motors, sensors, and chassis parts,
that come together for a yearly
competition. Students from dozens
of schools flock to qualifier competitions
every few weeks, anxious
to put their hard work to the test
on the battleground. One of these
qualifiers was hosted at our school
last year, however this year, the
event was unfortunately cancelled
due to our harsh January weather.
However, the competitors were
able to bounce back better than
ever. In these highly competitive
events, students compete for the
sought after Tournament Champions
trophy, amongst other recognitions,
within selected alliances.
The robotics team was successful
in bringing one of these home.
This ranks them amongst the top
teams in Connecticut. Through
the subsequent qualifiers, the
Middletown team has qualified for
both regional and national competitions,
and continues to show off
what their robots are capable of.
The VEX competitions not only
test the robot, but also how well
the operators can program their
robots to complete a task. The
robots are specially designed to
complete a series of programmed
maneuvers, according the current
year’s game rules. An example of a
task for the robot is moving scoring
objects into a designated goal
area.
Every year, the competition introduces
a new game. This keeps
the competitors on their toes. This
year’s competition is called “In the
Zone,” consisting of cones and
goals. The competition is played
on a 12 by 12 foot square playing
field, in which 80 cones are placed
around ten goals. Randomly assigned
alliances place their bots in
designated start zones and work
together to win.
According to VEX’s website,
“The object of
the game is to
attain a higher
score than the
opposing alliance
by stacking cones
on goals, by scoring
mobile goals
in goal zones, by
having the highest
stacks, and by
parking robots.”
This means that,
in order to win,
c o m p e t i t o r s
must strategize
and plan out how
they can score
the most points.
Before the
drivers take over,
there is a 15
second autonomous
program
in which pre-programmed controls
on the robot kick off the match.
This is followed by a minute and
45 second manual round, in which
the player controls the robot.
Back in the classroom, students
work on their robots as a team —
building and perfecting their work,
and improving on old designs. Each
robot takes a group of students
months of work to perfect — a tedious
but rewarding process. It takes
ingenuity and problem solving by
team members to make the most of
their time and work productively towards
the next qualifying win.
At our school, students choose
their own teams which average
around four students per group.
Students also have assistance from
their robotics teacher, Samuel
Faulkenberry, who works in room
108.
Faulkenberry acknowledged
the necessity of hard work and
dedication to building a robot. He
said, “one hour a day, six days out
of the rotation, isn’t an adequate
amount of time so students use
free periods throughout the day
and come after school in order to
prepare adequately in the high level
functions needed to compete.”
Students start from the ground
up, organizing and assembling every
piece needed for the robot out
of the wide array of specialized
VEX parts, including everything
from screws and nuts to microcontrollers.
VEX controls other
aspects of the build for gameplay
as well, such as the 18 by 18 by 18
inch size limit.
Motors, wiring
and computers are
later added to allow
the robot to move
and perform the
actions necessary
for scoring points
in the game. Special
programs are used
to control the robots
actions, ranging
from a simple
click-and-drag
program all the
way to a low-level,
C-based environment.
These programs
can be used
to dictate a set of
moves the robot can perform with
the press of a button. The programming
for the manual section
is slightly different, as a competitor
will control the robot via a remote.
However, the robot still needs to
be programmed according to the
driver’s specifications.
The Middletown robotics team
has been doing extremely well this
season, even getting mentioned in
the Middletown Press for receiving
an award as a top-scoring Connecticut
team.
Faulkenberry describes this
year’s team as “the highest qualified
team that we’ve had.”
These team members include juniors
Kyle Dale, Simon Getter, Jared
Lyding, Enjie Wang, Ian Corvo,
Dylan Karpel and Thomas Debo,
and seniors Kuba Alicki, Parth
Kekare, and Benjamin Tyszka. The
Middletown 9909B team has qualified
for the national competition in
Council Bluffs, Iowa, while both
the 9909B and 9909A team have
qualified for regionals in Worcester,
Massachusetts.
The robotics class consists of
a three year curriculum featuring
Engineering & Robotics I, II, and
III. The robotics classes focus on
robotic design and the engineering
process, however, students also
work on other areas of technology
including, but not limited to, 3D
printing, 3D modelling, and computer
programming. These areas of
work often coincide with the main
objective—building robots.
These areas of work are not isolated
instances of technological
advancement: 3D modelling and
printing, for example, are of strong
interest in the medical community
where custom organs can be created
for those who are on donor
waitlists or even need the specialized
attention.
Robotics is a 21st century skill
and everyone at the school has the
opportunity to study and take these
courses. Faulkenberry said, “any
student in general with an interest
in Robotics… is welcome to take
the class.”
Even if you only have a mild interest
in the topic, understanding
the engineering process and robotic
design is a crucial tool for living in
today’s world.

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Robotics team has best season yet