Thomas Jefferson

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STEAM Powered

Posted 03/21/2017 by Jordan Prochnow

The Sparta Robotica team prepares for their upcoming competition. photo by Mia Grijalva

TJ robotics prepares to compete in a regional competition on the University of Denver campus.

On March 24th and 25th, TJ’s robotics team, #3648 Sparta Robotica, will compete in the Colorado Regional branch of “FIRST STEAMworks,” a national competition centered around challenging high school students to overcome various obstacles and trials through engineering. The team’s students, coaches, and mentors have been hard at work since January to prepare, volunteering their time and efforts to create a powerful and effective robot.

FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) is put on by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the nation’s most prominent organization for students interested in engineering-related careers and activities. While there are a handful of other competitions that are targeted towards younger engineers, FRC is for high school level students with a desire to thrive in a fast-paced environment. This year’s challenge, FIRST STEAMworks, has a steampunk and mechanical theme, while playing off the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) name and ideals. Teams must construct a robot that can handle large whiffle balls and plastic gears, and shoot and/or place these items into a “airship,” modeled after a blimp. At the end of the competition round, a bonus obstacle occurs: students can choose to attempt a rope climb, where the robot must pull itself up and hang for several seconds. There are few requirements and guidelines as to how to construct the robot, which provides teams with an added challenge. “FRC is a difficult and arduous task, but every year we tackle it head on and come up with something great,” said senior and team leader Erik Stolz. “It’s the journey where you learn the most, not the destination.” For more information about this year’s game, click here.

This is the team’s sixth year competing in FRC, and marks a year of tremendous growth for both the build process and students in general. The team consists of members from TJ’s two Pathways Robotics classes, a course for students in their third year of the robotics track. Due to an increase in size, from around 25 to almost 40 students, the team has been very productive, building more robots and meeting deadlines earlier than in previous years. “The team this year is considerably more productive due largely to the student leaders who stepped up and assisted in the team charter and expectations,” explained instructor Matt Santambrogio. “These students were able to help identify students areas of strengths as well as assist in keeping students on track. Other than that, I think that the team this year is more dedicated and focused than in years past.” Since early January, students and mentors have been hard at work to ready themselves for competing, meeting on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and days off of school; the Spartans were required to dedicate a minimum of 80 hours to working on the robot.  “The build hours were long and tiring, but they encouraged the team members to work a lot more,” said junior and veteran member Rachel Golledge. “This in turn helped us to make a superb robot.”

On Saturday, February 18th, the team made the journey to Coronado High School in Colorado Springs for a practice competition to prepare for the real one in March. Teams could participate in matches as many times as desired throughout the day; they only had to queue up and wait for their chance. This event allowed the Spartans to gauge other robots, build connections with other teams, and hone their skills on the playing field. “The practice competition was really helpful for us!” said senior and new team member Kieran Cecil. “It was great to finally have an actual field to practice on, and it gave us a better idea of what our focus should be for the actual competition.” Sparta Robotica was one of the only teams to be able to perform the aforementioned rope climb, which set their robot apart and solidified TJ as a worthy opponent.

The Colorado Regional takes place annually at the University of Denver’s Ritchie Center, where thousands of competitors and spectators arrive to witness robots in action. Registered teams come from all over the continent, with students from Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, California, Texas, and South Dakota competing. This diversity reflects the impacts of FIRST, showing that engineering is accessible to all regardless of location, age, and gender. This year, around 50 teams will compete, and TJ hopes to place in the top ten. “After working so hard last year and not getting quite where we wanted to, I feel like this is the the year we can actually make it,” said senior and team leader Kendall Richter.

Sparta Robotica is gearing up to compete and they are ready to dominate on the playing field. The team has been hard at work to prepare for this thrilling event, and they are sure to thrive amongst the excitement. For more information about TJ robotics, including sponsorship, team bios, and more, visit the Sparta Robotica team website.