By SHERIDAN CYR
A packed municipal center meeting room, which roared with anticipation and suspense, fell completely silent as the live-stream reveal was broadcast across the screen.
The old familiar sounds of classic videogames streamed out of the speakers as an average looking high school student was pulled into the gaming system and transformed into an 8-bit game character, seeking out the “power cubes” needed to complete the quest.
On Saturday, Jan. 6, a group of 53 promising robotics engineers—Southington’s “CyberKnights” or FIRST Team 195—gathered for the 2018 FIRST Robotics Kick-off to learn what this year’s challenge would be. For the 12th year in a row, the CyberKnights will take on over 3,600 teams across 27 countries in the worldwide FIRST Robotics competition.
FIRST Team 195 mentor duo Gino and Sandra Brino welcomed current and past CyberKnights, family members, sponsors and members of the community to the official kick-off. FIRST Robotics, headquartered in New Hampshire, live-streams the big reveal to teams worldwide so all teams start on an even playing field.
Once the challenge is revealed, the teams immediately jump into action and begin brainstorming ideas. Teams have just six weeks to build a fully functioning robot capable of taking on the challenge at hand that will be put to the test in the New England Regional competition.
“All I ask is that you all give me your best,” said Gino. “We’ve been planning this day for five months. Now we are running on all six cylinders.”
The challenge was revealed, and the gears started spinning in the CyberKnights’ minds.
This year’s team will be challenged to operate a robot from across a stadium. The robot will be required to manipulate power cubes to-and-fro in a timed setting.
Scoring can be achieved by dominating a weighted scale with power cubes. Cubes could also be used to earn certain advantages, such as longer time on the scale, assisted elevation, and more. The robot that the team decides to build will need to be able to travel, lift, transport, and drop off these cubes.
It goes without saying that the CyberKnights learn a great deal about engineering throughout the season of building and competing, but the takeaway is more significant than knowledge.
“We try to build, not only robots, but well-rounded individuals,” said Gino.
Each year, the CyberKnights extend their efforts beyond the team and into the community, visiting younger students to teach them about robotics, and participating in acts of community service, and offering robot demonstrations at the Southington Education Foundation spelling bee, the Apple Harvest Festival parade, and a number of other local events.
“We have a relationship with our local veterans in town,” said Sandra. “We have a saying: ‘We serve those who served first.’”
Sandra called the CyberKnights team an “experiential learning program in an educational setting” and a “close knit family.” They meet almost every day after school to plan and build their robot.
SHS senior and Project Manager and Captian, Andrew Bauer, echoed Sandra’s remarks.
“It’s a great hands-on experience,” Bauer said. “We get to apply our thoughts here and put them into practice, all while we gain engineering skills.” In addition, he said, being a part of the team makes a great addition to his college resume.
“This experience has been amazing to me. It’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved in,” he said.
Sophomore and Chairmans Lead, Kristen Gorham, has learned more than she expected when she first joined the team. “You learn a lot of life skills, like presenting, teamwork, and community service. Plus working with our local veterans is such a good feeling.”
Gino and Sandra Brino said that the program is possible because of all the local sponsors and supporters who aid the CyberKnights and make their work possible.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.
To learn more about the CyberKnights, visit them at www.team195.com.