Four nights a week and on weekends, a group of Watertown High School students work intensely bolting pieces of metal frame together, wiring electrical circuits and even sewing fabric. These members of the WHS Robotics Team have been working on their entry to the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition for the past month and only have a few weeks left to finish their creation.
During the build season the Robotics Team, also known as the KwarQs, has six and a half weeks to build a robot from scratch to take part in the competition. Each year the goal of the game is different, so the robot must be able to perform different tasks.
This year’s competition, called FIRST Power Up!, is designed to be like a video game, with robots from three schools teaming up to compete against a trio of other robots. Robots gain points by moving around cubes, which are milk crates with a cover over it, and placing it on platforms at various heights.
WHS’s robot has a tall lift on it, a bit like a fork lift, to take the cube and elevate it to the right spot.
“The reason the robot has a lift on it is to lift the cube up to the switch,” said WHS Robotics Team captain and WHS senior Taylor Nygren. “If you put (the cube) on the scales it give you more more points.”
Cubes can also be brought over to the side of the play area and collected by the human operators to build special powers. The cubes can be put into one of three power, and then the players push a switch to give a brief burst of speed, increase points or allow them to climb. By the end of the game, teams can get extra points by reaching up to the top of 7-foot-high platform and then left the robot 12 inches off the ground, Nygren said.
All this takes place in just 2 minutes and 15 seconds and the robot is not always in the players’ control, said Jim Salvas, an assistant coach and one of the founders of the Robotics team in 2007.
“For the first 15 seconds the robots drive themselves,” Salvas said. “There is a vision processor this year to guide the robot.”
(See more details about the 2018 FIRST Robotics competition in the video below)
The KwarQs have 34 students on the roster, and the number attending each build session varies from about a third to more than two-thirds, Salvas said. After spending the fall learning about robotics, design and other concepts, the team found out their challenge on Jan. 6. Then they have to go to work, but before they can start assembling the robot, Salvas said, they have to design it.
“What do we want it to do and what is important in a robot?” Salvas said. “Then we have to building it. That’s the challenging part.”
The team gets assistance from its coaches and a group of mentors who have backgrounds in engineering, electronics, marketing and graphic design, among other things.
Students break into different specialty subgroups such as electronics, programming and graphic design. Last Thursday, students gathered in small groups around tables working on different sections of the robot.
One group wired the electronics, including the roborio – the brains of the whole robot. As they work on the board, the students hope that they have put it together correctly, said sophomore Henry Hartshorn.
“We will know when we are programing it,” Hartshorn said. “If it doesn’t work we might have to go do small changes or we might have to go back and redo it.”
On another table, a group assembled the gripper that will be used to grab and move the cubes, said sophomore Ashley Nygren.
The robot looks different and does different tasks than last year. Nygren demonstrated what Sir Gearsly – last year’s robot – could do.
“It picked up gears and align it with a peg,” Nygren said. “It also grabbed on to rope and could climb.”
The team struggled to get their robot to grab the frayed end of a rope using screws pointed outward. Part of the FIRST competition is to not only compete with other teams, but to assist them. One of the other schools figured out that velcro worked much better to grab the rope and helped Watertown change its robot.
One of the innovations of this year’s robot is quite low tech. During competitions each robot is placed on either the red or blue team. In prior years the team made two sets of bumpers (foam pool noodles with cloth around them attached to wood) – one blue and one red. The bumpers hat to be replaced before each game, said Head Coach Mary-Benham Nygren. However, they did not know what color they would be until right before the match, said sophomore Juliana Lavery.
“We have a flap with the team number on it and we can flip it,” Lavery said.
On Feb. 21, the WHS robot goes “in the bag” and it will remain their until the competition, except for some very limited time to last minute adjustments, Salvas said. The KwarQs will take their robot to district competitions on March 17 and 18 at Reading High School and April 7 and 8 at Revere High School.
In between, the team will practice, but since they can’t use the robot in the bag, they will build a second one using parts from old robots.
Running the team is not cheap, said Mary-Benham Nygren.
“We are a self-funded team,” she said. “The school does provide a stipend for coaches, but the fee for registering for the FIRST competition and to get some parts for a robot costs $5,000.”
Teams can also spend up to $4,000 on other parts to add to the robot, Nygren said, and the extra parts have to be carefully documented.
The team rely’s on sponsors to cover the costs. This year’s sponsors are the Miller/Tracy Children’s Foundation, Watertown Savings Bank, United Electric Controls, Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Gartaganis Brothers jewelers, Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, and Google.
Find out more about the Watertown High School Robotics Team here: www.team2423.org