Robots gone wired
3 units this year for Coronado robotics effort
The robots are multiplying.
At least they are this year at Coronado High School. In the third year of participating in the national, privately sponsored FIRST competition, the school's Cougars Gone Wired robotics venture no longer has just one robot that students design and assemble for remote-control games with other schools, it has three.
The main unit, 2996, which brought the school first place at the Denver Regional event in 2009 (Coronado's first year with FIRST), has been rebuilt by a team of about 30 students to match the rules and requirements for the 2011 First Robotics Competition (FRC) game, called “Logo Motion.”
Plus, in keeping with this year's game rules, 2996 has been programmed to deploy a “minibot” that can climb quickly up a pole and then down.
The third robot is the responsibility of a 10-person team of ninth-graders, marking the school's initial year in a separate-but-similar event called the FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC). Unlike the FRC unit - which has some required parts but leaves the rest to the imagination of student engineers who are told only what functions the robots need to perform - the FTC unit comes from a kit. But that's a kit with about 1,200 parts. And, after assembly, the finished product has to be programmed to run alone or with a remote.
All three robots were on display Feb. 22 at a banquet for the students (who'd been building and fine-tuning the units in long hours after school and on weekends over the previous six weeks), Coronado staffers (who'd provided pointers but left problem-solving to the kids), adult mentors (who'd done the same) and business sponsors (who had helped cover the program's roughly $40,000 in costs).
The students got a chance to demonstrate the robots at the banquet, drawing some “oohs” and “ahs” from impresssed family members and citizens (including Coronado Principal David Engstrom and Board of Education member Jan Tanner. It was the last show for the robots, which, under FIRST rules, can't be worked on again after the six weeks until they are unbagged for competition.
Bryce McLean, a Coronado engineering teacher who had led the start of CHS robotics in '09, said at the banquet that robotics provides an answer to “people who say kids aren't dedicated. If we didn't have to put it  in a bag, I know they'd tinker with it some more.”
He added, kiddingly, that “robotics is like a varsity sport for geeks.”
Coronado junior Jasmine Kemble is the CEO for the FRC effort this year and senior Alex April the CFO. Freshman Zachery Finley is the president of the FTC team.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization founded 19 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen with the goal of encouraging budding engineers.
Here are this year's game summaries (edited from the FIRST website):
The FRC's “LOGO MOTION” involves two alliances of three teams competing on a 27-by-54-foot field with poles, attempting to earn points by hanging as many triangle, circle and square logo pieces as possible. Bonus points will be earned for each robot that can hang and assemble logo pieces to form the FIRST logo. Robots can also deploy minibots to climb vertical poles for a chance to earn additional points.
The FTC's “Get Over It!” is played on a 12-by-12-foot field. Two alliances - one “red” and one “blue” - compete in matches consisting of a 40-second autonomous period followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period. The object of the game is to score points by emptying baton dispensers filled with 6-inch long PVC tubes and placing them in stationary and rolling goals.
Competitions coming up will be the following:
FTC - Colorado championship, March 5 at Regis University in Denver, In February, the team took second place at a “scrimmage” with 16 schools in Fort Collins.
FRC - Kansas City Regional event March 9-12 and Denver Regional event April 7-9. A victory, or a special recognition award, at either of those would qualify Coronado for the National FRC championship in St. Louis April 27-30.
Also, according to Gary Hilty, another Coronado engineering teacher helping Robotics, the school this year is making a push to win the FIRST chairman's award. This award is unrelated to the robot development, but focuses on community-related work by robotics students. For instance, the Coronado group has sponsored three other robotics teams in Colorado Springs, has done blood drives for charitable causes, and talked about their work to engineers around the city.
This aspect of the robotics program, like the others “is all student-driven, Hilty said. “We have a great team. It's like a family.”
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