By Jano Tantongco
Huntington High School’s Robotics Team is gearing for the annual For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition, after the unveiling of this year’s theme for the competition, dubbed Steamworks, on Jan. 7.
As the team met last Thursday to discuss their strategy, head coach Bryan Reynolds explained that the student-driven team aims to take their work to the next level this year. In 2016, the team earned a spot and competed in the competition’s world championship in Missouri.
With a different theme and set of challenges each year, the Steamworks competition tasks competitors’ robots with throwing “fuel,” which are represented as whiffle ball-like spheres into boilers on each side of the playing field to generate water pressure. The more pressure, the more points the team earns. For more points, robots can attach gears onto an “airship” suspended in the center of the arena.
“They’re doing a great job, and that’s all student driven, student ideas, students teaching other students,” Reynolds said.
He added that each year the team tries to contribute more to the overall body of knowledge to improve their designs. Last year, he said, the team attempted to implement a digital vision system for the robot, which would allow it to “see” using cameras, sensors and reflective tape. Though it wasn’t ready for last year’s competition, the team aims to fully utilize it this time around.
“Just like in real world engineering, every car manufacturer does the same thing,” Reynolds said.
The team now has just six short weeks to finalize their robot to compete and said the team has already developed a shooter prototype.
“There’s no excuses at the end of six weeks. There’s teams all over the world doing this. Some of us have snow days. Some of us have floods. Some of us have tornados. It’s still six weeks,” Reynolds said.
Team captain Jacob Strieb said that the team plans to design and implement the various components that will aid to accomplish the competition’s objectives, separately. Once they are finalized, they will seek to combine each element into a cohesive robot they hope will bring them back to the world championships.
Strieb, a senior, has been with the team ever since it was created four years ago. He remembered in its early days, the 10-15 students on the team starting with “pretty much nothing,” creating a robot with just motors, wheels, PVC pipe and a toilet flange.
“I’ve really watched it grow an immense amount in a short period of time. We’re orders of magnitude more complex from that point.”
Now, the team has more than 60 interested students, a budget from the Huntington Union Free Schools District, and multiple divisions of the team that include mechanical, electrical, as well as a business section dedicated to sponsorships, budgeting, promotions and apparel.
With Strieb now working on his last robotics competition as a student, he admitted he was slightly concerned about the team’s future after he leaves, but this year’s core of students has instilled confidence in him.
“In the time we’ve been operating this year… I’m absolutely amazed that giving students the opportunity to take leadership results in them doing just that,” Strieb said.