Robots in the ring

But this challenge is hardly robotic

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Chris Uth was a member of the Pilgrim robotics team at the 13th annual FIRST Tech Challenge hosted by the New England Institute of Technology Saturday, only this time he was a coach.

Uth and Dan Martini were members of Larry West’s first robotics team to compete in the event years ago. Now, they were back.

West remembers Uth as a student unsure of a career and whether he wanted to continue his studies after graduating from high school. He found his niche in computer programming and now works as a software engineer at Starburst Labs.

West thought of Uth and Martini when faced with 12 students in the advanced robotics class at Pilgrim, all of them anxious to test their skills against students from across the state. He asked the Pilgrim graduates if they would be mentors and coaches, enabling the school to field two teams.

“With two teams it was going to be hectic,” West said, “so I contacted these guys.”

Students and mentors got into it. On the two Saturdays leading up to the competition, the teams met from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., adjusting and refining their robots so as to meet the required tasks and hopefully rack up the points. Robot specifications are specifically vague, so competitors have a lot of latitude in designing and building their robots.

As 9509 – that’s the number of the Pilgrim Patriots Robot – awaited its first challenge in one of two rings where spectators and other team members looked down from bleachers or watched the action of wide screens, it was suggested that the shut-off button could be hit by a competitor and shut them down. That would be it. They’d be out.

Team member Jacob Trivisonno got right on it. The first thought was to reposition the switch deep within the metal framing of the box-like robot. That would have taken time, and there was no knowing when they would be called into the ring. Trivisonno came up with a quick fix – a shield.

The team also considered the proximity to competing robots and how that might block them from completing their tasks. They built in a bumper, actually a ramming fender that could take and give hits without endangering the core to the robot.

There’s really little robotic to the FIRST Tech Challenge.

It’s just the type of planning and problem solving that West finds so educational about working with robots and the competition.

The “Sons of Liberty” from Pilgrim won the control award for demonstrating innovative thinking in the control system to solve game challenges such as autonomous operation, enhancing mechanical systems with intelligent control, or using sensors to achieve better results on the field.

Two teams advanced to the FIRST World Championship, to be held in Detroit, Michigan, from April 24-27. They are “The Cybears” from Shoreline Robotics, Westerly (winning team) and “The Raiderbots” Charles E. Shea High School, Pawtucket (winners of the Inspire Award).

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