A complicated robot is packaged up at Canfield High School awaiting a trip to Pittsburgh on March 14 where it will compete against other robots in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics competition. The competition pits 2,600 high schools from around the United States and Canada against each other as team members gain knowledge into teamwork and technology.
"This is the first time we've been involved in FIRST Robotics," said Junior Engineering and Technology Society advisor Don Crum. "We've been involved in the past with the YSU competition with NXT Lego parts, but this is 10 times up on the level. It's more intense."
In the past, JETS members built robots using Lego NXT parts. They had to build the robot to perform certain tasks. It was less difficult in that members only put the Lego parts together, then programmed it.
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Michael Messuri and Nick Crescimanno put some last-minute touches on Robot 4601 before packing it up for competition in mid-March.
FIRST Robotics, as Crum said, is more advanced. The JETS students have to design and build their robot out of aluminum. Often, it requires making a specific part from scratch.
"We sculpted our robot as we went," said JETS member, senior Michael Messuri.
He said the work started on Jan. 5. JETS members on the robotics team met after school to plan, design, construct and program the Canfield entry. In the past two weeks, the team would meet at the high school tech lab and work almost to midnight.
Team members had valuable guidance through several mentor-fathers.
"We had mentors, but it was hands off," Messuri said. "The students were the leaders and the adult mentors followed their lead."
Crum said the teams in FIRST Robotics tend to help one another. Austintown Fitch and Warren Harding's adult mentors made the trip to Canfield to check on the team's progress and offer tips to help. That friendship proved valuable when the team suffered an unexpected setback.
"One of our encoders shorted out and caught fire," Messuri said. "We got spare parts from Austintown and Warren teams that got us back up and running."
While the design and build was an important part of finishing the robot, the team also had to include other areas such as programming, public relations, and even grant writing. To get the basic starter kit, the team needed the funding.
Freshman Marie Messuri, along with Crum, had to help write a grant to NASA. The grant was for $6,000 that was needed to get started.
"That grant got the starter kit," she said. "We also held bake sales and did calling for donations,"
Marie's role didn't end there. She also designed T-shirts for the team that included the sponsors on it.
On the programming end, junior Kyle Thompson actually began the process less than three weeks ago. He said it uses C++ coding language that dictates the robot's movements.
The competition does include a deadline and that was last week. The robot had to be completed, programmed and boxed for shipment to Pittsburgh for the competition. The team actually worked right up to the last minutes and at 11:54 p.m., the box was closed up and ready to go.
The FIRST Robot competition actually begins this weekend at sites all over the U.S. and Canada and will continue for six weeks with winning entries qualifying for the national finals in April in Kansas City. Some teams will compete at more than one location, but for most teams, one is it.
"It takes $4,000 to enter one competition," Crum said. "Pittsburgh will be our only one this year."
Crum said, while the competition and the building are fun for the students, the real value comes from knowledge gained and skills learned. It also introduces the world of technology and science to students to encourage them to look at careers in those fields.