Andover High School’s Robotics Club, with more than 80 current members, is dedicated to teaching students useful skills in engineering, problem solving, and planning. Meeting Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for a total of six hours a week, students with mixed engineering experience meet to construct a robot and participate in competitions with other schools from around the area.
On Sunday, December 11, AHS’s robotics club competed in a robotics qualifier that ran all day in the AHS fieldhouse. Junior Aum Trivedi, president of robotics club, spoke about the dynamic of the club, as well as the current competition that they were meeting at. As president, Trivedi explained, “I manage the three teams that we have. It’s Lightning, Thunder and Hailstorm. Hailstorm is an all girls team and Lightning and Thunder are co-ed teams that are mixed experience.” With the many students who participate in robotics club, grouping everyone together would be difficult, so they are separated in a fair and organized manner.
For such a large group of participants, teamwork and stamina are important. The teams put all of their efforts into creating one robotics project a year to bring throughout various competitions and qualifiers. According to Trivedi, “This year it’s called Velocity Vortex. Basically the goal is for us to launch balls into these vortexes which are 15 inches high and at the end of the game we’ve got to lift those exercise balls into them, so it’s quite an intense challenge.”
Though the project may look and sound relatively completed, they are never fully finished. No two competitions are alike, so naturally, the projects have to adapt along with the playing field. When asked about the completion of the project Trivedi explained, “The nature of the challenge here is that we’re never finished. That between every competition we’re changing it constantly. There’s never going to be a moment when were finished because it’s always changing.” Participation in the club requires the flexibility and adaptability of everyone involved, but in the end, it is interesting to see where each new competition and alteration leads the evolving project.
In order for any team to compete, members must all present their ideas when hoping to move past qualifiers and continue on. Trivedi explained that the December 11th competition included “18 teams from all over the region that are competing, and it’s quite a big deal. This is a state qualifier so the teams who win here will go on to the state competition.”
While there was much at stake for each team, the game was always kept clean, shying away from foul play or rivalries. While the group tries to avoid any direct opposition to other groups, “there’s a bunch of teams that do exceptionally well, and I guess we’re competing directly with those,” Trivedi said. “But the whole motif of our competition is gracious professionalism which means that we try not to have those kind of rivalries. If I had to name a certain place we are specifically competing against I would have to say Lincoln. Lincoln High School has a really good program and so does Lexington High School.”
Like the robots and the competitions, the club’s dynamic is constantly changing in order to give students the best experiences and opportunities possible. On improvements made this year, Trivedi stated, “Last year our club organization was really poor, so I’ve changed it in such a way that it’s more inclusive. So basically to join our club you need zero experience, and you don’t need to attend every meeting. The only requirement is [participating] once a week maybe on any day that you choose.” He also explained, “We changed that from a more rigid schedule that we had last year which was less flexible for people, and it was harder for people to get into it.” One of the core themes that the club is built off of is enjoyment and allowing students to engage in interesting ways to build character and education. By altering the schedule, students are able to take a more relaxed approach to learning and to deter from the stress of their every day.
From what was observed, it seems robotics club has a lot to offer to students from all backgrounds. Even if students have not considered robotics before now, students should think about joining this club. According to Trivedi, “It’s all things engineering and technology. And another thing is that FIRST offers two billion dollars in scholarship money to students who participate in this program. So it’s a really big opportunity for students to make scholarship money like that.” FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non profit organization that was established to give students a chance to engage in science and technology. They host many robotics competitions and also provide colledge stability because according to Aum, “As far as applications go, most institutions know FIRST as an organisation that produces top innovators in the country so joining the club is definitely a big resume builder.” Not only does this club pave the way for future engineers, but it gives students a relaxed and enjoyable manner in which the learn sportsmanship, sciences, and problem solving.
Mrs. Reidy, teacher advisor for robotics club gave her personal input on the club and how she feels about certain aspects. Although Reidy has a full plate of work that she carries as a teacher in the math department, she continues to give her time supporting the robotics club. As previously stated, an engineer’s job is never done. Constant improvements need to be made in order to assemble the best possible robot for the time being. Students dedicate much of their time into making these improvements, even working over the break on their projects. According to Reidy, modifications include, “improving the steering, improving the pick up mechanisms and really working on improving their launching capability. They are also busy working on making sure their robots behave consistently — that’s a big focus this year; making sure that whatever your robot can do, it can consistently perform in the same manner.”
While the students work hard to improve the robots, Reidy oversees the projects and strives to give all students the best experience in the club. As the teacher advisor, Reidy explained, “I provide the structural backbone, helping the club (which has officers) keep track of deadlines, prioritize what needs to be done, help them resolve conflicts (time and team), act as a sounding board for ideas, guide them in regards to the engineering design/build process, facilitate the purchase of materials, acquire bus transportation (and chaperone) for events, assist the team in running the events we host here at the high school, and help the team to get mentors and act as a facilitator for the mentors.”
Reidy puts a lot of her time in to guiding the club and its students in the right direction, but working with the students is no problem. He favorite part of advising the club is “getting to know the club members. They are such a great group of students, and I am honored that I get to spend so much time with them. It’s a chance to really know them — much more than just as students in a class. We have a chance to talk more, I get to see all the cool things they can do with a robot, and it is fascinating to see the ideas they develop.”
Robotics club is an excellent chance for students to expand their knowledge on subjects that would not be tough in a traditional classroom setting. According to Reidy, “You learn all about the engineering design process, you learn about motors and gears, about Teleop (programming remote controllers), how to drive a robot (difference between 2 wheel and 4 wheel drive, for instance), you learn how to work in a team, you develop leadership skills, how to participate in brainstorming sessions, and how to wire a robot.” These are only the general developments that robotics clubs enhances, and there is little limit to how much a students can expand their mind.
While at first thought, robotics club may not sound like something anyone can do, Reidy reassured that no matter what type of student you are, robotics club can be a rewarding experience. On why to join, Reidy explained, “There is something for everyone if you have any interest in robots. Everyone gets to participate, and be part of building something cool. If you are hesitant about building or programming, you can help to document — which is a great way to be critical to the team and still learn about the robots. Robots are a critical component of our future. Almost everything out there today has been impacted in some way by a robot. Learning how a software program can make something move, and understanding how to build something that a computer has to move is invaluable.” It is difficult to tell where we would be without the people who worked to make great technological advances in our society. Robotics club is a great opportunity to compete with other students who share your interests, but it also helps to shape the future of engineers and our society alike.
By Audrey Gallacher