By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Team 5129 “Digital Devils” of Plainville High School have their robot wrapped and sealed for the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) scheduled for this weekend.
For seniors John Crowe and Stephen Gallo of the “Digital Devils,” preparing for the event means finishing their “practice” robot to determine any last-minute changes for the actual robot that will compete.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Crowe, adding that he feels excited and nervous for the competition. “Hopefully, we can figure out problems quicker at the competition,” added Gallo.
Both Gallo and Crowe have been part of the robotics team since its inception in October. Crowe, who plans to join the U.S. Air Force after graduation, said he has played a variety of different roles, getting his feet wet in the designing and programming aspect of the team. Gallo, who plans to pursue a career in mechanical engineering, has led the programming aspect of the team.
In January, the Digital Devils participated in a robotics kick-off event, where they found out the kind of task the robot must perform. This year, the students designed their robot to play a game called Aerial 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. The students only had six weeks to build their robot, which will play a role of “defense” in Aerial Assist during the competition.
“Since it’s our first year, we’re going to go through ups and downs,” said senior Arielle Lozefski, who helps coordinate the build of the robot. “Some things are going to break, but it’s a learning experience.
Unified Arts Teacher Mark Chase serves as a mentor for the Digital Devils, overseeing and assisting the team. Chase said over a dozen students are on the team, involved in a variety of different roles including manufacturing, programming, designing and marketing. Using the school’s transportation room and engineering lab to build the robot, the students have used the skills acquired in various courses like engineering to build their robot.
“It’s our first year, so there’s definitely a learning curve to everything,” said Chase, adding the Southington High School Cyber Knights have served as mentors for the Digital Devils.
“It’s been a great program since its inception,” added physics teacher Jeff Roberts, who serves as a mechanical mentor for the team, and also has experience serving as a mentor for the robotics team at Wolcott High School. “It’s really rewarding to work with the kids—to see them build the product.”
Gallo and Crowe said their current classes have helped them with designing the robot and problem-solving issues. From engineering to computer science to physics courses, the teammates said they were able to apply the skills from their classes to create their innovation.
“Learning that has helped with the programming [aspect] of the team,” said Gallo, referring to a computer science course that recently taught him about the programming language and computing platform Java.
Plainville High School Principal Steven LePage said he has wanted to offer students the opportunity to join a robotics team since his arrival. LePage added that the school has secured funding for the team through two different grants, including one from United Technologies and another one from FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, FIRST designs innovative programs to help young individuals develop knowledge and life skills while inspiring them to pursue opportunities in STEM fields.
LePage said the robotics team matches the goals of the Plainville school district, as it serves as a hybrid between technology and engineering, providing students with 21st century skills. There are also plans to offer two robotics courses for fall, both of which will be honors level courses.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I’ve been here, and it’s so valuable for the kids,” said LePage, adding the team will also work on building relationships with local companies in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). “This is going to be a trial year.”
“It’s a great asset to our department,” said Dave Gaignard, a teacher of the Unified Arts Department, adding that the integration of academics can help the Digital Devils with the design of the robot. “Now we can actually apply it to see if the design works.”
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 School, located at 720 Pleasant St.. The event is free and open to the public.