First robotics: Students gear up to present this year’s robot at regional competitions

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2018

Pearl River County’s Team CHAOS (1423) built a special robot for this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Power UP, which is based on classic video games.

Earlier this week the team held an open house to present their creation, affectionately named Caption Hook due to the mechanism used to lift this year’s robot, to friends and family before it is sent off to the regional competition in Orlando March 8-10. The team also plans to attend the Bayou Regional from March 22-24 in New Orleans, La.

This year, the team’s strategy will be to use their robot to place cubes on a scale a foot off the ground. This year’s game will task teams with using their robot to place cubes in a variety of positions within the playing field to score points. Cubes can also be stored to acquire bonuses later in the game. At the end of each match, teams will be tasked with elevating their robot off the ground using a grappling mechanism, which will simulate ascending to the upper level of a video game fight the “boss” for additional points. The team with the most points wins.

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Team CHAOS’ robot will focus on placing cubes on a scale to gain control of it and earn points, one of the many scoring points in this year’s game, before elevating itself before the end of each match.

Karen Balch, one of the team’s mentors, said Team CHAOS includes students from Picayune Memorial High School, Pearl River Central High School and local homeschools. While working on the team, students get hands-on experience in electronics, engineering and in using power tools.

The idea behind FIRST is to not only have students build robots and compete in special games at the regional and national level, but more to encourage students to consider a career in a STEM related field.

Picayune High School student Noah Pittman said he joined the team because he enjoys building things from scratch.

He also enjoys the fact that he and his teammates will participate in a competition that encourages them to work hard in order to be successful.

Pittman is also enrolled in vocational classes that added to his interest in the field of engineering.

During his six weeks on the team, Pittman also learned about sponsorships.

“I went into it thinking I would be learning a lot of building and repairing but got involved in the content creation side,” Picayune High School Student Drew Helgerson said.

Picayune High School junior Kolby Balch, who is part of the programming and mechanical team, said his brother encouraged him to pursue a career in science and mathematics.

Balch said being a part of the robotics team helped him learn about forklift mechanisms, pulley systems and how to write a computer program.

This year’s robot will employ a cascading forklift design that can lift objects with more speed using less power to get cubes on the scale quickly. The robot’s elevation mechanism is a variation of those used in previous years.

There was more for the team to do than just writing computer programs and working out mechanical kinks, some students were involved in promoting their robot through social media and descriptive videos.

Helgerson created the team’s video using animation, photography and videography.

He said the opportunity gave him a chance to experiment with different aspects of content creation, and taught him the nuances of mechanics.

Allen Forsman, the team’s long time engineering mentor, said working with Team CHAOS each year provides him a chance to share his passion and pass on his knowledge and skills to future generations.

Forsman said the biggest challenges he faces each year while helping the students build their robot is to meet the competition’s height and weight specifications in the limited time given.