By Christine Smith
In an upcoming district level competition that will mean a match up against 32 other teams from the northeast coastal region, Team 3623 — known as TerrorBots — from the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster have bagged and tagged their robot and are gearing up for travel to Springfield for arrival on March 5.
The team has been preparing for the 2015 challenge Recycle Rush for about six weeks, with the combined help of several students from Grades 8-12 and their mentors and coaches.
The event is part of a series of competitions organized each year by FIRST Robotics, founded in 1989 and based in Manchester, New Hampshire. This year’s district competition in Springfield is a recycling game during which robots must perform work both independently as well as while controlled remotely by drivers, with points scored accordingly. The robots must successfully stack totes on scoring platforms, cap those stacks with recycling containers and dispose of “litter” represented by pool noodles.
The team, with a majority of the members new to FIRST competitions, initially spent two weeks brainstorming designs and testing out some concepts for the electronic components. Then, they went to work building and testing, then re-designing, building and testing again. Their task was to design, build and program a 120-pound robot constructed of materials from a common kit of parts provided by FIRST.
They said difficulties came in creating design elements allowing the robot to pick up objects, as well as have it move in various directions as needed. They ultimately ended up with a design that included lifts, and a wheel structure that resembles a military tank for forward and backward movement but with the addition of smaller wheels for lateral motion.
They needed both versatility and stability for the robot to perform the various required tasks in the upcoming competitions, and the students said concepts sometimes did not work and designs had to be scrapped and reworked. With the help of software created by Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, the students were able to program the robot to perform the various tasks.
It has been an “exhausting” experience, as well as a “struggle” and a lot of “hard work” and they have had “problems the whole way,” including weather delays adding to the difficulties, said the students. But, they added that they were able to eventually work through it all and now they are experiencing the nervousness and excitement of the impending competition.
The competition will be held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield March 6-7 with a number of qualifying rounds on both days, and ending Saturday evening after final elimination matches and an awards ceremony. The Leominster-based TerrorBots will join other teams from Massachusetts, including from Upton, Whitinsville, Agawam, Concord, Westborough and Northampton, and others from Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, and even as far away as New Jersey.
They will follow that up with a second district competition in early April to be held at Bryant University in Rhode Island. They hope that after both competitions, they will be able to qualify and move on to the 2015 FIRST Championship, which will be held at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri, later in April.
“FIRST Robotics provides realworld engineering experiences, exposes students to innovative thinking, teamwork, collaboration and encourages excitement for science and engineering,” noted David Bee, vice president for research and development at Boston Scientific, which donates funds to the Boys & Girls Club and the robotics team.
Members of the TerrorBots team include students who attend the Boys & Girls Club and are from the Leominster and Fitchburg high schools, the Montachusett Regional Vocational School, the Leominster Center for Excellence and Innovation and the Sizer Charter School.
Mentors and coaches come from companies such as Bio-Techne of Devens, Comcast and Steel-Fab of Fitchburg, as well as teachers from the Leominster Center for Excellence and Innovation, local skilled tradesmen, Boys & Girls Club staff, and FIRST Robotics Competition alumni who are now students at Fitchburg State University and Mount Wachusett Community College.
According to Boys & Girls Club officials, this is a “community effort to offer local youth the chance to learn and develop many new skills.” They say that the experience allows team members to learn more about math, science, engineering, and design and that could lead them toward the possibility of careers that require engineering, computer programming, business, public speaking, communication and leadership skills.
John DiNapoli, manager of Municipal and Community Services for Unitil, which is another sponsor of the programs at the Boys & Girls Club, said he was happy to be working with the club and its programs. He said getting students working in activities that involve technology such as the robotics programs and the FIRST competitions is a great place to start in the creation of future engineers.