The Brewer High School students involved in Orange Chaos — the school’s FIRST Robotics Team, an after-school activity that lets students gain extra skills in engineering and computer programming — are extremely proud of their robots. They’ve built six of them so far, and have entered three of them into the FIRST Robotics Competition, a national competition for high school robotics teams.
Last week, Orange Chaos, led by engineer and community volunteer Everett Bennett and several other community volunteers, went to the Pine Tree Competition at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, to pit their robot, “Clawdia,” against 31 other teams from across Northern New England. Orange Chaos came in first place, and the team is now ranked 11th out of 174 teams in New England, meaning they are one step closer to competing at the national level FIRST Competition, set for St. Louis, Missouri, April 22-25. In 2013, the team’s first year, Orange Chaos were named All-Star Rookies and were invited to St. Louis; the team hopes to return again this year.
In early March, the Maine chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers awarded Orange Chaos a grant for $1,000 to support their work with FIRST, which gives high school students nationwide a major leg up in gaining skills in engineering and computer programming. Though science, technology, engineering and math skills (STEM) are at the top of the list of priorities of most schools, the practical application of those skills is not always available in the classroom.
With FIRST Robotics, which takes place after school and is led by community members, students can learn and then apply those skills in a fun, low-pressure environment.
The competitions at both the regional and national levels have a festive and supportive atmosphere — students wear crazy costumes while their robots are “in the pit,” and the spirit is more of creative cooperation than it is of competition, with teams cheering for each other throughout the day’s events.
The robot the team designed for the competition this year, “Clawdia,” is more than 8 feet tall and boasts a pneumatically-controlled, highly flexible claw on an elevator that can grasp and lift things up and down. Clawdia moves around on several wheels controlled by a drive train, which is controlled by a wireless joystick that one of the team members manipulates.
The FIRST competition each year picks a challenge each robotics team has to design their robot to be able to complete. This year, robots had to dispose of foam pool noodles, pick up recycling totes and stack them up, and then pick up a recycling garbage can and place that on top of the stacked totes — without dropping any of them, and without leaving an established 26 feet by 27 feet playing field.
For information about Brewer FIRST Robotics, visit brewerfirstrobotics.com.
by Emily Burnham
of The Weekly staff