By Lisa Capobianco
The Cyber Knights have practiced day and night for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, scheduled to kick off this weekend for the first time at Southington High School.
Team members are gearing up for the upcoming competition, completing last-minute tweaks on their 120-pound twin robot, and practicing in a space donated by engineering company Mohawk Northeast in Plantsville, where they have invited other teams from the state to practice too.
This year the Cyber Knights designed their robot to play a game called Arial Assist, which involves two alliances of three teams each competing to score as many balls in goals as possible in a match lasting two minutes and 30 seconds long. They can earn additional points by robots working together to score goals.
Now in its seventeenth year, the Cyber Knights team spent six weeks building, programming, testing and designing the robot, creating an official one to be used in the competition (FRC) and a “twin” robot to troubleshoot any difficulties.
“They are practicing with their robots seven days a week,” said Team Mentor Sandra Brino. “There’s a lot of defense this year.”
About two weeks ago, the Cyber Knights competed in the FIRST Competition in Groton, where they came in as quarterfinalists, but won the Industrial Design Award sponsored by General Motors. Although they did not expect to end as quarterfinalists, team members said they feel confident about his weekend’s competition.
“We’re really excited,” said Bailey Kahl, a junior at the high school who has served on the robotics team for two years now, working on the manufacturing side. “We’re confident going into Saturday.”
During the FIRST Competition, at least 30 different teams will participate, including teams from Connecticut and other New England states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Sponsors include companies like United Technologies, Tiger Enterprises, Pyramid Time Systems, Saucier Mechanical Services and Plainville Electrical. The U.S. Air Force decided to be sponsor of the Cyber Knights for the first time this year.
“It’s going to be cool to see kids there from the Northeast,” Kahl said.
“This year knowing we’re actually going to host it is awesome,” added Senior Megan Graham, who plays a lead role in the business aspect of the team, helping her teammates analyze game strategies and creating ideas for alliances and working together.
FRC Connecticut Regional Director Carol Scully and Social Media Consultant Stacey Lynn Gray said Southington High School was chosen to host the competition for a variety of factors, including parking availability, the size of the gymnasium and other additional space.
“There needs to be a large cafeteria for all to eat, an area for the robots and teams working on them to set up (we call this the pits), and an easy and safe route for the robots and their drive team to travel from the pits to the gym,” said Gray. “Southington met all of this criteria…and is centrally located.”
Scully said the field will be set up in the gymnasium where the audience will see the game, which will be broadcasted live on a large screen. A number of FIRST volunteers will help out at the event, including referees, field reset volunteers and field technical people. The event also features over a dozen judges from different STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Scully said she hopes the competition will serve as an inspiration for students to pursue a career in STEM, which continues to evolve. She added that the competition is also a great opportunity for students to work together as a team to create something innovative.
“They essentially learn together to create a product,” Scully said. “It’s hands-on experiential learning.”
Faculty and staff at Southington High also feel excited about hosting the competition for the first time, including Principal Dr. Martin Semmel. Dr. Semmel said he hopes the community will attend the event to gain a better understanding of what the competition is all about.
“We see this as a celebration of the success of our Robotics team and our entire community,” Dr. Semmel said. “Our robotics team provides the environment and the mentors to give our students an authentic experience with problem solving, mathematics, fabrication and programming.”
Besides hosting the FIRST Competition for the “first” time, this is also the first year in which the Cyber Knights will apply for the Chairman’s Award, which is the most prestigious award that a FIRST team can win. The application process involves writing a 10,000 character essay, answering 11 different essay questions, submitting a three-minute video, creating a live Powerpoint presentation and making a file book of the team’s media exposure, business plan and community outreach projects in the areas of STEM and in other areas unrelated to STEM. The team will present before a panel of judges during the competition.
Gray said the Chairman’s Award recognizes the team that “best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.
“Along with that they can tell the story of their team, the successes of their alumni and what the FIRST Robotics has done for them,” Gray said.
If selected as the winner of the Chairman’s Award, the Cyber Knights will receive an automatic ride to the New England District Championship in Boston, scheduled to take place in April.
“This is our first year, so it’s going to be hard, but the rewarding thing is actually submitting it,” Kahl said.
The FIRST Robotics Competition will take place Saturday, March 22 and Sunday, March 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., on both days, at Southington High. The event is free and open to the public.