Gearing up for FRC

SMCHS’ robotics elective students and club teammates have achieved great success and are striving for more.

Buttons are pushed with great speed. Gears  click into place and whir frantically. The  microcontroller brain boots up. The robot is ready for action.

During the 2014-2015 school year, SMCHS  started its very first robotics elective class, but  the bots didn’t stop here. This school year holds  another reward for SMCHS robotics: the  Robotics Team, an extracurricular club that  meets after school. Recently dubbed, “SMbly Required” by Tom Gerlach, Latin teacher, these  electronic eagles have soared to new heights.

“The club is a totally different type of robotics than the class,” said Jason Lawrence, robotics  teacher and coach. “The after school competition team can exist without the class because the two are completely separate, but there are a decent amount of students in both.”

SMbly Required attended three Vex  competitions, winning the Judge’s Award in  October, the Design Award in November, and  the Judges’ Award and Create Award in  December. Vex competitions consist of check- in and robot approval, qualifier rounds,  elimination rounds and the finals. The robot  dimensions are smaller: 18 by 18 inches.

“We went to Vex with a structured team of  different units of people who work on specific  aspects such as the assembly division, the  programming division, the design division and  the outreach division,” said senior Mac Dalphy.

For Vex, the Robotics Club splits into two teams.  The more advanced team, Team E, attended  all three Vex competitions. The rookie team,  Team A only attended the December Vex  competition.

“Each team has a team leader, master  designer, master builder and master  programmer,” said sophomore Pelin Ensari.

With Vex serving as preseason, the next big  competition for these talented techies is First  Robotics Competition (FRC) for which the  objective involves shooting boulders into small  holes in models of castles. After dissecting the  game and deciding how to play, the robotics  team creates their competitor through a  lengthy process.

“We have six weeks to come up with a concept  for our robot followed by prototyping,  designing, and building the functioning robot,”  Dalphy said. “At the end (Feb. 20) we have to  put the robot in a bag with a zip tie on it and  leave it until competition day.”

Rules and regulations for FRC can be found in the 111-page game manual which became available on Jan. 9.

“Part of the detailed design process involves a computer-aided design program (CAD) to  create a 3D model of the robot before we ever  build it,” Lawrence said.

The CAD program used by SMbly Required is  called SolidWorks, and would cost around  $4000 to purchase. It is also in use at Applied  Medical, which offers summer internships to  those who pass a certification test that  determines their ability to use SolidWorks.

“Because FRC has such a big learning curve  with teams out there who have been doing this  for more than 15 years, they have a huge  advantage over us of knowing how to build  parts, how to manufacture good strategies and  stuff like that,” Dalphy said. “If we can help  teams in areas where they struggle or in  approaching the competition with an original  perspective and make ourselves desirable in  that focus, we can win Rookie of the Year.”

Several companies such as Entech and Toshiba have contributed grants to the budget for the many FRC expenses.

Best of luck to these bot-building brainiacs as  they enter FRC at the end of March with talons outstretched for the Rookie of the Year Award!  From there they will flock to St. Louis for World  Championships!