Robotic creativity

<p>Several members of the Umatilla High School robotics team practice driving their robot around their school shop.</p>

Ever since the Umatilla High School robotics team “Confidential” competed in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition world championships last year, the team has been thirsty for a repeat trip.

When this year’s FIRST challenges were announced earlier this month, the team promptly started to prepare for its first competition, March 12 through March 14 at Eastern Oregon University.

For this year’s challenge, called Aerial Assist, teams have to build a robot capable of flinging a ball 2 feet in diameter into goals on the ground and several feet in the air. In competition, they will be paired up with two other alliance teams against three other teams to compete in a 25-by-54 arena.

“It can be pretty complicated, so we had to start on it right away,” senior Stephanie Klucas said of designing and building the robot.

After ordering the parts they needed, team members went right to work designing, building and programming of the robot. Within two weeks, they had their robot driving around their high school shop space.

The project, however, requires a big time commitment. Team members spend hours every day after school, all day every Saturday and even sometimes on Sunday working on their robot. Umatilla Superintendent and robotics coach Heidi Sipe said most students on the team are also involved in at least one other extracurricular activity.

“It requires quite a lot of planning and organization,” she said.

Four students on team “Confidential” are heading sub-teams — electrical, marketing, building and programming — which responsible for the various components of the project.

Junior Caden Sipe is head of the electrical team, which is responsible for wiring all of the robot’s electronics. He said he mostly learned how to do his job by observing members last year and by trial and error.

“The more you do it, the better you get at it,” he said. “It becomes like a foreign language.”

Junior Anabel Moreno, head of the marketing team, said her team’s job is to write essays for awards submissions they hope to earn this season, including a chairman’s award, an entrepreneurship award and an award specially for the team’s coaches and mentors. Her sub-team’s other duties include updating the team website and social media pages, ordering any needed parts and making weekly videos about the progress of the team.

Several members of the marketing team, including Moreno, also helped to write the grant application for the $2 million 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant awarded to the district in July to expand its STEM Academy after-school program.

The other team sub-heads are Klucas, in charge of the build team, and Caitlin Nelson, who is head of the programing team.

The UHS robotics club team has about 21 members and five interns.

The interns aren’t allowed to directly work on the robots, so they build other things essential to the program. Recently, they built a container that will hold memorabilia team members will give to other teams during competition. The team decided to hand out buttons this year that display the team name and colors — black and red.

Seventh-grade intern Brandon Bensen said he was happy to join the UHS team.

Bensen said interns cannot compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition because they aren’t old enough, but they can hone their skills for the second highest level of FIRST competition — the FIRST Tech Challenge. Instead of using larger parts and larger motors, they use Lego parts and compete in a smaller 12-by-12 arena.

The main goal in the Tech Challenge is to earn points by maneuvering blocks into goals and complete other tasks, including raising a flag. Most, if not all, of the interns are on FIRST Tech Challenge teams of their own.

Sipe said by allowing interns to help the FRC team, they get to experience what the highest level of competition is like and begin preparing for that.

Sipe said, even though the competition is probably the most exciting part, the teamwork involved is equally important to the team’s success. She said FIRST officials want students working as a team to build relationships with one another, while also learning valuable skills that will attract students to science, technology, engineering and math career paths.

Awards and trophies are also given to teams that exhibit team work, leadership and more, she said.

The team is also required to track its progress in an “engineering notebook” to submit to judges at competitions, for which they may also earn awards.

“They really have to work together as a team to get everything done,” she said. “When we get done with our team meeting at the beginning (of practice), everyone scatters to their particular job. It’s fun to watch.”

People can track the progress of the UHS FRC team on its website, umatillarobotics.org.

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