Robotics teams compete at first scrimmage of the season

Nov 19, 2017

Robotics students from eight high schools across Massachusetts descended upon Dartmouth High School to test their engineering skills in a robotics competition.

The November 19 event served as the start to the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics season. Although it was only a practice event, it was the first real test for Dartmouth High's newly formed Team PlasticGears.

“We had so many students last year and we had too many this year,” explained robotics teacher Samuel Brodsky. “We had to start a new team.”

PlasticGears is headed by sophomores Michael Anderson, and William Fang. Although they are not new to robotics, many of their partners are.

“We’ve won our first three games so far,” noted Anderson.

They were both on the robotics team last year, and took the helm of PlasticGears this year.

Despite some early hiccups with their robot in class, it’s now up and running, although there’s still work that needs to be done before the first non-scrimmage event on December 9.

“The color sensor just doesn't work, and we still haven’t figured out why,” Anderson said, adding that an improved block grabber is something else he hopes to add before then.

Dartmouth High’s original robotics team, the Alumineers, began building the base of their robot in the first week of September, explained captain and robotics club president Ethan Bariteau. Without knowing what the challenges were, the group guessed, and made adjustments when the challenge was unveiled later in the month.

“The stacker can get to the third tier, but to max it out we need to get to the fourth tier,” Bariteau said of work that still needs to be done.

Bariteau said other than that, their robot’s programming and mechanics are fine, but the human element of operating the robot using a joystick needs some work.

And there are more robotics events in coming to Dartmouth schools. Candida DesJardins was on hand helping out at the scrimmage. The educational outreach program manager at the Newport, Rhode Island Naval Undersea Warfare Center noted the facility recently signed up to partner with the Dartmouth schools system to help support robotics programs at all grade levels in town.

DesJardins said the Navy currently supports the SouthCoast Corsairs, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth FIRST robotics team with members from Dartmouth High. Now, she said support, particularly in manpower and mentors, will be offered to the FIRST Lego League program at the middle school and other STEM-based programs in schools.

“What we’re looking for is to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers,” DesJardins said. “This gives kids the chance to say they worked with real engineers.”

A third team at the event was also from Dartmouth: Bishop Stang's robotics students were also participating in the scrimmage. With a new advisor and renowned interest, advisor Cathy Gagnon has high hopes for the program.

“We’re in reboot mode,” Gagnon said. “We’re just getting it up and running again and we’ve had great success so far.”

Senior Amanda Vasconcelos said she came to the scrimmage with an open mind to see what their robot needed before heading into regular competition. After a match, students were busy tweaking the robot’s dimensions and adding a lift system to better complete challenges.

FIRST robotics competitions require students to build robots capable of completing specific tasks to score points in a set obstacle course, both autonomously and with human input through controls. Each year, new challenges are created to keep things fresh.

This year’s challenge is called “Relic Recovery,” and includes several ways to score points. Balls corresponding to each team’s color can be autonomously identified by the robot and retrieved for points.

Using human control, operators can retrieve and stack boxes for points. A bonus opportunity to score points involves programming the robot to identify photographs placed along the course using image identification hardware and code.

Dartmouth High will compete in its first major event on December 9 at Canton High School. Students will face 16 teams from across Massachusetts at that event, which serves as the first qualifier round.