For a lucky group of MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) students at Savanna High School, the 2013-14 school year began with the formation of a partnership between their engineering class and volunteers from the Anaheim office of Rockwell Automation.
MESA is an outreach program designed to bring underrepresented and economically disadvantaged populations into university studies and careers in science, engineering, and technology. These students, with the help of their mentors from Rockwell Automation, formed a team to compete in the First Tech Challenge, an international robotics competition where teams of students compete head to head using a 18 in3 robot they have designed, built, and programed from the ground up.
Tasks in the competition included moving blocks into designated baskets, climbing ramps, raising a flag, and doing a robot pull-up. In addition to the performance tasks, teams are judged on design, creativity, programming, and outreach. The mission of FIRST Robotics is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting, mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
Work by the Savanna team, comprised of 23 students in grades 9-12, began on the robot named “Light Speed” in October, shortly after the start of the school year. For the students, this was their first time being exposed to a project of this scale. Each piece of equipment—servos, gears, controllers, circuit boards, wireless module, sensors—was a new puzzle to be solved.
“We ran into problems along the way with communication among team members, programing issues, and moving blocks into the scoring basket,” said team member Jacob Nguyen. But by staying focused on our objectives we were able to work through each and every one.”
For the Rockwell Mentors, this was a new experience, as well. According to team coach Craig Hacche, “The Rockwell Automation district sales office located in Anaheim recognized this as an opportunity to contribute and to foster and mentor local high school students in the engineering, design and build, and testing process of a functional robot.” The company had 11 mentors who came in at various times to work with the team.
In January, Team Light Speed competed in its first event. The qualifying match held at Perris High School was a learning experience for the rookie team. Said freshman Zach Ragazzo, “We were nervous going into the competition and even though we didn’t place first, we felt like we accomplished something by scoring points for each maneuver.” Team Light Speed won the trophy for team spirit.
In February, the team entered their second qualifying match. In this event, held in Beverly Hills, Team Light Speed made it into the final rounds of the competition, but failed to move on to regionals with a loss in the semifinal match. “This project is not just about building a robot and winning; it is also about people skills, team work, communication, and leadership,” coach Craig Hacche. “We learned a design process, the importance of testing each of our ideas and then going back and redoing it to make it better. The whole thing was stressful, but you learn to persevere.”
Light Speed is currently working on a new robotics contest, the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge, to be held at USC on May 3, 2014. “The idea behind this contest is to promote access to clean drinking water,” said MESA teacher AJ Stuart. “Right now, we are working on our new design, which involves transporting and filtering water.”
The information above was released by Anaheim Union High School District.