Time will come for Red Hawks robotics
By Darren Lum
Published April 18, 2017
The Red Hawks Robotics Team members are feeling satisfied and fulfilled from their experience at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) 2017 Ontario District North Bay FRC event from April 6 to 8.
Although the team did not score enough points to move to the next round of competition, there is optimism for the future because of the team’s progress.
This was possible by correcting mistakes made a week before North Bay at the FIRST event held in Barrie at Georgian College.
The challenge for the team in the second event was the same. Nautilus, the team’s robot, was challenged with fueling a mock steam-powered rocket using balls, representing fuel. Robots could score points by the different methods of fueling, which included climbing a rope to the rocket, moving around and picking up, carrying and shooting the balls, or lifting gears and stacking them on poles. In the game, the Hawks joined two other randomly chosen teams to form an alliance to oppose an alliance of three other teams to compete in an enclosed playing area.
Team advisors Dan Fockler and Dan Gimon said regardless of the placing, the team members all benefited from learning during lead-up process and in the competition. They added the team has shown improvement since it started four years ago.
Gimon said stronger finishes are coming if they can replicate the recent success of their mentors, the Huntsville High School Hoyas, who advanced for the first time to the FRC Ontario District Championship this past weekend at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga in its seventh year. He adds it could be only a year or two away for the Hawks, now in their fourth.
“We should do that sooner,” Gimon said. “Because we got more support. We got their support.”
The team’s support has come from various people such as community mentor Kirk Creelman, known for building the experimental amphibious aircraft, the Aerocat, former team alumni Natasha Bradley and Cody Williams and major sponsors the Rotary Club of Haliburton, FIRST Robotics and the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
After the district championship, teams that are successful in advancing will compete at the world competition finals at the end of April in St. Louis, Missouri.
The organizing body, FIRST introduced a few changes, which have really made a difference this year.
In previous years the opening round of events were held during the school week. Now it starts at the end of the week, but carries into the weekend. This makes it easier to schedule for student participants and staff advisors, Fockler said.
Gimon and Fockler believe the new event fee structure made it financially feasible for the Hawks to compete in two events. It made a difference, enabling them to resolve problems discovered from the first event. More experience and practice can only help, they said. There are already plans for an exhibition competition in Huntsville in June, which the team plans on entering.
Gimon and Focker said the team may also come together after this year in advance of the FIRST competitions in the coming school year, possibly summer or autumn. It should prove to be beneficial for the team, particularly returning members such as Brandon Verstege, the team’s captain. Brandon welcomes another opportunity to lead next year.
As the leader, he spent a lot of time at events meeting with other teams and answered questions related to the team’s robot.
“I got to talk a lot with other teams. I got to hear their stories about their robot, their thought process on building a robot, which in turn helped us with our robot. I think next year I’ll do it more,” he said “I’ll talk to more people and learn more.”
This was a complete 180 for him from the previous year and it was something he thoroughly took satisfaction from and considers a highlight. Being the leader, he spent a lot his own personal time working on the robot. It helped, he said, having Grade 11 student Jonas Hill, who was the team’s main driver, interact with other teams while in alliance.
Having an additional member help in this way enabled Brandon a chance to perform other duties while at the events.
With many members gone due to graduation and the addition of new members, the team had difficulty co-ordinating schedules to come together for the robot. At most times, he said, there were small groups of one or two who met. These issues added to the stress levels leading up to the first event.
This team needs more than just students aspiring to be computer programmers or engineers, he said.
The diversity of jobs and duties for the team is very broad. There is a real need for a variety of people with varied interests and skills, particularly individuals that can help with garnering sponsorships and support from organizations.
First year member Cullen Johnston brought his artistic skills, Brandon said.
“While he might not have worked on the actual robot he was still a big part of our team and was the face of our team,” he said.
Cullen smiles, recalling his rookie year, culminating in the competition at Nipissing University and being able to contribute to the team, using his wood working skills learned from class this year. His enjoyable experience, he said, is going to bring him back next year. Although he didn’t truly understand the programming aspects, he really liked the hands-on nature. In his spare time he likes to produce designs on the computer inspired by his dad’s landscape design work.
Betty Paton, who joined the team four years ago in Grade 9, appreciated being able to end her tenure with the team just as she ends her high school life. The club not only taught her a lot about herself, but also the various related technological skills from programming to engineering.
The Grade 12 student with desire to pursue a bachelor of arts and science degree was the main programmer for the team, along with support for the driver and worked in the pit. She enabled the robot to meet the required autonomous operation for 30 second periods.
She might be pretty good at computer science and web-based programming, but discovered from her experience that a future as a professional in those fields isn’t for her, referring to the high stress and overly demanding work schedule.
“It’s a lot of time looking at a laptop screen. There’s only so much I can take ... [sometimes it was] like banging your head against the wall,” she said.
The opportunity to be on this team assisted with building her skills to work with others.
After four years, she discovered the basics of computer programming was not as difficult as people believe.
“Just because you don’t play video games every day doesn’t mean you can’t learn to make a website or make a robot move and work,” she said.
Creelman not only helped the team in the lead-up, but went with the team to North Bay for the competition.
Betty credited him with assisting the team in tackling the FIRST competition requirements for the robot.
“We were able to build mechanisms that picked up gears and deposited them, which a lot of teams didn’t have because they needed to have them loaded. We also had a mechanism that shot fuel, but didn’t get you as many points as gears so we mostly focused on the gears,” she said.
With greater potential for more points by getting the robot to climb the rope, the team removed the throwing mechanism in favour of a climbing component for the North Bay event. Unfortunately, it did not work in competition after it operated without fail in all the trials, Betty said.
The coaches said part of the issue was the robot’s approach wasn’t always straight on to the tower, hindering the application and leading to the rope being unable to track properly.
Betty, who was the lone girl on the team this year, encourages a wide variety of students with different interests and backgrounds to consider joining the robotics team.
She encourages girls to join the team next year, believing there is potential for learning and for fun.
“Even if it’s not your thing now it could be so you might as well and give it a shot and for the most part people want to use your help to succeed,” she said.