Building a robotic dynasty

Building a robotic dynasty

By Peter Jasinski

Members of the Terror Bots robotics club at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster won the "FIRST Robotics" competion over the 

Members of the Terror Bots robotics club at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster won the “FIRST Robotics” competion over the weekend, topping programs from all over New England. Kneeling, from left, are Brett Houck and J.C. Oquendo. Standing, from left, are coach Jon Blodgett, students Hanna Barriero, Eric Jenny, Jonathan Arel, Max Shepherd, Brandon Forten, and coaches Jacob Janssens and Cameron Cardwell. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE


LEOMINSTER — Calling them scrappy underdogs would almost be too appropriate.

Despite fewer resources and less money than much larger teams, members of the Terror Bots robotics team designed a machine that outpaced the competition of 41 other schools and communities at last weekend’s FIRST Robotics district competition held in Worcester.

This is the second year in a row that they’ve claimed the prize.

“There are a lot of teams that don’t even win once so getting it twice in a row is really exciting,” said Jonathan Arel, a Fitchburg High School sophomore and member of the Terror Bots.

The team is comprised of 10 students from Leominster High School, Fitchburg High School, Monty Tech, the Sizer School, and Chelmsford’s Lighthouse School.

Students in the robotics club at the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster won the recent "First Robotics Competition" beating schools 

Students in the robotics club at the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster won the recent “First Robotics Competition” beating schools from all over New England. The students show how the robot works at the club on Tuesday afternoon. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE


They’re based out of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.”Being an after-school program, our budget is a little smaller. We’re a Boys & Girls Club competing against high-level high schools and tech schools,” explained team coach Jon Blodgett. “You could spend up to $4,000 on your robot and we spent the most we’ve ever had, which was $1,400. We were well under the limit.”

This year’s task was building a robot in six weeks that could pick up milk crate-sized boxes and navigate them across an obstacle-laden playing field. All teams are given some standard equipment to build controls for the robot, but beyond that, they’re responsible for finding parts and designing a machine that can get the job done.

Having less money puts the Terror Bots at a disadvantage from the start, meaning students have to be that much more creative in finding solutions that will work even better than the ideas of their opponents.

As Leominster High School junior Eric Jenny explained, one such innovation was the team’s decision to use a wheel in their robot’s drive train that was comparatively cheaper than what was used by other teams yet more efficient after some careful tinkering.

“We just use Omni wheels with straight rollers, but we put them at an angle,” he said. “It does the same thing, but it’s a lot cheaper and it is actually slightly faster moving side to side.”

Jenny was responsible for driving the robot across the course while fellow LHS junior Max Shepard operated the arm that picks up, and sometimes throws, the boxes used during the competition.

“It was intense, but I honestly only noticed our bot,” he said. “You’re really just zoned in on doing one thing, and one thing only, the whole time.”

Though the team has been in existence since 2011, the last two years mark the Terror Bots’ first ever competition wins.

According to team mentor, and former member, Jacob Janssens, the most recent win was especially impressive because of the stiff competition they faced in teams from Bridgewater and Newport, Rhode Island.

“We proceeded through the finals undefeated and against two powerhouse teams,” he said. “They’re both extremely high-level teams that have seen the world championship endgames, and we beat them on the field.”

The team’s robot will soon be packed up and shipped to the next stage of competition, which will be held at Bryant University in three weeks. Until then, the team is not just preparing, but also looking ahead to a spot in the national level competition being held in Detroit later this year.

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