Chill Out!, the Mountlake Terrace High School robotics team, finished off its competitive season for 2014 at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) district event held at Shorewood High School Mar. 21-22. Chill Out! compiled a 4-8 record in 12 match appearances and placed 27th among the 33 teams at the event, but accomplishment in the FIRST programs is more accurately measured in what students learn in science, engineering, technology, problem-solving, communication and teamwork.
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is an international robotics organization that offers learning programs and competitive events for 1st through 12th graders. The FIRST Robotics Competition is the top-tier programming of the group, in which teams of high school students design and build a 120-pound robot to compete in a specially selected game each year.
For MTHS teacher and Robotics Team Advisor Craig Devine, the FIRST program is a way for students to apply science and technology in an exciting, high-energy way. “FIRST Robotics is meant to inspire kids in the world of technology and to celebrate the accomplishments of kids who decide that they would like to engage themselves in it,” Devine explained.
With an army of 12 volunteer mentors from fields such as engineering and computer programming, Devine led his Terrace students in a six-week design and construction frenzy to get a robot ready for the high-impact competition seen at FRC district events.
More than 20 students collaborated on the FRC Chill Out! entry this year. The robot was programmed to operate autonomously for the first 10 seconds of matches at the FRC competitions, then are remotely control by a student driver standing behind a plexiglass shield at one end of the competition arena.
The two-minute, 30-second games at FRC competitions are intense affairs, with up to six robots maneuvering around the arena floor, attempting to score points by throwing or placing large balls through or in target areas. Robots are placed in teams for each game, and points are calculated in each game and throughout the weekend. The announcers hype up each game with team introductions, team members and fans will wear outlandish costumes, mascots will spur on fan cheering, and the events are streamed live on FIRST web pages.
FIRST’s creation of a sports-influenced atmosphere for the FRC events is important for the overall impact of the program, Devine said. “We do so much celebration of sports,” he noted,” that we need some way to bring highlight and fun and competition to those kids who aren’t doing sports, but want to study technology and math and science.”
Devine has taught at Mountlake Terrace High School since 2000, and brought FIRST programs in as a club option for Terrace students a few years later. The club meets throughout the school year, with January through March being the most intense with the preparations and participations in FRC events. In the fall, club members are involved with designing, building and competing with smaller robots in FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) competition.
— By Doug Petrowski