BHS robotics team heading to competition

Posted April 17, 2013, at 10:47 a.m.

By David M. Fitzpatrick

Of The Weekly Staff

Orange Chaos, the rookie FIRST Robotics Team at Brewer High, scored well in its appearance at the Pine Tree Regional competition April 4-6 — so well that it’s on its way to the national competition in St. Louis, which will feature an estimated 2,600 teams and 52,000 students competing for more than 780 scholarships valued at more than $16 million.

But they’re only going to get there if they raise about $20,000 in the next week.

“A lot of parents came down Friday, pretty much all the parents Saturday,” said Everett Bennett, the lead mentor for the team. “I think, after Saturday, seeing that competition, how well organized it is, how the kids were just all pumped: They were all 100 percent sold.”

The team earned the All-Star Rookie award. It was ranked 14th of 38 teams in the qualifying rounds, was picked as an alliance team for the finals, and finished as the third-place alliance, earning a trip to St. Louis. The team’s project robot had to be able to throw Frisbees through targets and then climb a steel pyramid made of welded bars.

But the team needs to raise about $20,000, and fast. The team will split the roughly $16,000 coach rental with big winner Infinite Loop, the team at Messalonskee High School, but the team needs money for hotel and food costs for the 13 students and five or six mentors.

“We’re working everything we can to shave a few dollars here and there,” said Bennett.

He is pleased with how his team’s robot performed. “Very good,” he said of the experience. “We had some definite learnings there… we were scoring good, and Saturday was just a very strong day.”

Team members competed in several matches over three days, and along the way the young engineers made changes and improvements, fixed glitches, and even rewrote software.

But after the competition, it was hands off. The robot was sealed in plastic, so all they could do was look at it — until last Thursday, when it was crated and shipped via UPS, which ships all competition robots to and from the nationals free of charge. The team members won’t be able to make adjustments until they get to St. Louis, but they took plenty of measurements and have plans in the works.

Bennett is extremely proud of his team.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “Saturday, the whole team was just clicking.”

The team launched last year thanks to a $6,500 registration sponsorship from Fairchild Semiconductor, donations and support from many local and national businesses, and a leadership team of local engineers.

The team received a kit with the basic drive-train materials and other parts, including a Netbook computer and control joysticks, about half of the needed components. At first, the team members didn’t know what they’d be building and later discovered their robot had to throw Frisbees and climb bars.

The BHS team was born last year after Bennett and his son attended the engineering expo at UMaine, where they saw Messalonskee’s strong robotics team. As an engineer, Bennett saw this as a crucial program for Brewer.

“It’s something that I think is missing in school and education,” he said in February. “[Having more engineers is] what’s going to pull our economy back together and out of where it is… We need to get the kids interested in that.”

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) teams design, build, and program their robots. Along the way, team members learn about mechanical, electrical, computer, and software engineering, to name a few. The program was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, famed inventor of the Segway. This year, FIRST expects 52,000 students in 2,600 teams.

The competition is a combination of two principles: “gracious professionalism,” in the words of MIT emeritus professor Dr. Woodie Flowers, a co-founder and national adviser to the FIRST Robotics Competition since its founding in 1989; and “coopertition” — always competing, but always helping others.

Check out the team’s progress from start to present, with plenty of photos, at BrewerFirstRobotics.com.

People interested in helping can contact Diane Caron at dcaron@breweredu.org or can mail checks, made out to Brewer High School, c/o Diane Caron, 79 Parkway South, Brewer, ME 04412.

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