ROBBINSVILLE – Corporate America arrived with their checkbooks and left impressed by their investment.
The business donors who help make Robbinsville High School’s FIRST Robotics program possible came to Team 2590’s recent networking event where they drove the 2012 basketball-shooting robot and saw the almost-finished 2013 model, which will toss Frisbees and climb metal pyramids when the next competitions begin March 1.
“It’s amazing that they can do this level of work in just five or six weeks,” said Peter Mavroudakis, of Lockheed Martin, as he surveyed the activity in the high school’s expansive technology lab.
Steve Morales, of Siemens Industry, said what he found equally impressive was the program’s comprehensiveness. The 66 members of Team 2590 Nemesis work in sub-teams devoted to all aspects of a successful robotics program, including the creation of a business plan, finance, fundraising, marketing and running a website – not just designing, programming and assembling a robot.
“It’s impressive,” Morales said. “There’s so much more that goes into this besides the building of robots.”
The Feb. 6 Sponsor Networking Event at the high school drew about a dozen representatives from a range of global and local companies in the fields of technology, automation, software development, custom-machinery manufacturing, finance, pharmaceuticals, and the aerospace industry.
Students, dressed in black business attire, gave a polished presentation that highlighted the benefits of corporate sponsorship as well as Team 2590’s achievements in last year’s FIRST Robotics “Rebound Rumble” competitions. RHS advanced all the way to the semifinals at the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis where it finished among the top 4 percent of the more than 400 teams there.
The 2012 season also included district entrepreneurship awards for the finance and marketing team, the prestigious chairman’s award for overall excellence, the regional best website award at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, and a regional entrepreneurship award at the Festival de Robotique in Montreal.
Donations from corporate and community sponsors are key to the team’s success because the grants pay for the equipment, competition fees and team travel expenses, said RHS technology teacher Joy Wolfe, the advisor to Team 2590. Last year the team’s operating expenses totaled $60,000 because the team advanced all the way to the world championship, Wolfe said.
After the students’ presentation, the veteran of last year’s competitions, a 4-foot, 120-pound basketball-shooting robot dubbed “Prince,” was whirring about and sinking baskets on an oversized wooden backboard affixed with four hoops of varying heights. But the main attraction was the unfinished machine on a lab table that will soon be competing in FIRST Robotics’ new 2013 challenge, a game called “Ultimate Ascent.”
FIRST challenged high school students on Jan. 5 to build robots that can shoot Frisbees through targets of varying heights and then climb a metal pyramid. The robots will earn points based on how many targets of varying degrees of difficulty they make and how high they can climb on the pyramid before time runs out. The students were given six weeks to design and build their robots.
“This year’s game is nothing like we have ever seen before, pretty much the hardest challenge that FIRST has ever issued,” said Team 2590 CEO Josh Falk. “It’s going to be interesting to see how different teams tackle the challenge.”
Uddhav Joglekar, an executive on the build team, said the team’s strategy for amassing points is not to waste too much time on the pyramid.
“As a team, we decided that climbing the pyramid to the top row is not what we want to do,” Uddhav said “So we have a robot that is designed to right now shoot our Frisbees and get that quick bottom low hang at the end of the match.”
Build Team Executive Julia Borowski said a Robbinsville-based custom machinery manufacturer, Gaum Inc., has been instrumental in providing a lot of the parts for the 2013 robot.
“This year, our students who have taken Project Lead the Way (pre-engineering) classes, where they learned to use CAD (mechanical engineering) software to design many of the parts, and we were able to send that to our sponsor Gaum to manufacture these parts,” Julia said. “They fit excellently on our robot.”
The Robbinsville robot will roll out for the first district-level competition of the 2013 season on March 2-3 at Hatboro-Horsham Regional High School in Horsham, Pennsylvania.