Mech Tech headed to world championships
The Morgan County Mech Tech team is making their second appearance at the FIRST Championship Wednesday (today) in St. Louis, Mo., among 600 teams representing 18 different countries.
Each team has built a robot to accomplish a specific task as designated by the FIRST Robotics Competition standards. This year’s competition is called Recycle Rush, where robots have to stack bins for points. Stacks can earn extra points if a large recycling can is placed on top of them.
The Mech Tech team has been working on designing, building, programming and perfecting their robot since January. Part of the challenge is the strict time constraints placed on each team. They only have 45 days to build their robot before they have to bag it up and ship it to competition. To work around this obstacle, the Mech Tech team built twin robots, one for practice and one for competition.
“Since we have to send off our robot long before competition, we built a practice robot to keep at home,” said the team’s sponsor and teacher at Brewer High School Tim Sharp. “This way we can still practice our driving skills and work on our programming with the practice robot before we get to competition and have more time to work on the other robot. Several other teams had been doing that, so we decided to do the same this year. It has been very helpful.”
The Mech Tech team named their competition robot Quantum, while their practice robot is called Silver.
“We put so much time and effort into these robots, so they become our babies almost,” team member Noah Sanders said. “During the build time, we generally work on the robot for about 20 hours a week and as much as 140-150 shop hours overall. We all spend so much time together towards a common goal that we really become like a family. One of the sayings from the competition is that this is ‘the hardest fun we will ever have,’ and we definitely agree. It’s a lot of work and can be extremely stressful, but we love it.”
The team of about 30 is made up of high school students from all over the Morgan County School System. They apply for the team almost like a job, and most members take one of the two classes Sharp teachers at Brewer dedicated to the competition.
“We try to make the application process as much like a real-world job as possible,” Sharp said. “We want to make sure they are dedicated and have skills to offer. I will probably add an interview portion to it next year. We have continued to build in our four years as a team, and we now have design, electrical, mechanical, marketing, CAD, media, awards and scouting teams within the group.”
Sharp said the competition teaches valuable real-world lessons.
“The competition isn’t just about robots,” Sharp said. “It stresses gracious professionalism in every aspect. They encourage every team to be fully functioning, but also courteous and give back to the competition in some way. There are several awards given out to teams for their creativity, citizenship and more. It’s really a tool for them to get a taste of real-world projects and teamwork.”
The team earned a spot at the world championship after being runner-up at a competition in Knoxville, Tenn. against 50 other teams. This is their second year in a row to make it to the FIRST Competition.
“This is the premier competition for robotics, and it’s an honor to get to compete again this year,” Sharp said. “These students are learning highly advanced 21st century skills that will be vital for them later on. They either learn to adapt to the strain of the challenge or they don’t.”
Team member Josie Blocker said the team is helping prepare her for her future career in electrical engineering.
“I took some electrical classes to prepare me for this team, and now I’m part of the electrical sub-team that helped wire Silver,” Blocker said. “I’ve learned a lot from being a part of this team. It has really taught me commitment and helped me connect. I was shy when we had our first meeting, but now we have morphed into a big family.”
“This is the closest thing we will come to a real-world engineering project while we are still in school,” team member Isaac Johnson said. “The experience we are getting here is going to be invaluable. I think that’s why we join the team, but we stay on it because we find out we love it.”