Prospect Mountain High School senior Jaimie Westlake drills holes for an elevator frame as part of this year's FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — robotics team. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Niko Neathery adjusts parts on a robot at Prospect Mountain High School, as members of the FIRST Robotics team test code and adjustments to the device. The Prospect High team, Team 319, also known as "Big Bad Bob," has a history of attending national competition. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — While senior Jaimie Westlake drills holes by microscopic margins, other team members at Prospect Mountain High School test-run a modified version of last year’s robot, for the purpose of collecting a large yellow disc and inserting it on a peg.
Multi-tasking is nothing new for Team 319. Also known as “Big Bad Bob,” the FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — robotics team at Prospect Mountain High builds on 21 years of robot-building pedigree.
“For the past three years, we’ve actually qualified and advanced to the world championships. We’re on a good little run. We’re hoping to continue that with this year’s game,” said team mentor Brian Hikel.
But for this overachieving team, it’s not enough to construct a robot that can survive the specialized field test put out in the national competition.
“We don’t build a robot in six weeks. We build two robots in six weeks,” Hikel said.
After the six-week build season, the team will take the competition robot and secure it, per the contest rules. “Our other robot, the programming team and the drive team will continue to use to practice and become better and tune their software code to get drive time to get better at driving the robot and do the tasks on the field,” Hikel explained. Any changes made in the programming of the practice robot can be inserted into the competition robot, he said.
On Jan. 7, inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen launched this season at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. Kamen revealed the competition theme, FIRST Steamworks, “an industrial airship-themed game played by two alliances of three robots each.” The teams will board robots onto steampunk-style aerial machines inspired by the era of steam-powered technology.
Alton hopes to advance to the 2017 New England FIRST District Championship hosted by the University of New Hampshire April 6, 7 and 8, at Whittemore Center Arena in Durham.
“I’ve been involved with FIRST Robotics since ’96. I think this is 21 years,” said Hikel, who estimated that 30 students participate. Alton doesn’t just fend for itself. The school’s programming team helped team 6691 at Brewster Academy develop a FIRST Robotics device.
“Just this past weekend, we teamed up and we put our wings out over Brewster Academy up in Wolfeboro. They have a rookie team this year, so that’s something new we’re adding, we’re reaching out and mentoring a rookie team that’s in their first year of existence,” Hikel said.
Joe Derrick, physics teacher at Prospect Mountain High School, said the Alton team also finds time to post videos, via a Robosports Networks YouTube page. Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., Twitch TV broadcasts five teams from across the country. The Prospect Mountain High team, with Westlake as a constant host, rotates different team members to present updates. For a Jan. 27 installment, the public can visit https://youtu.be/SBw9P7dyegw.
Timothy Guyer, lead programmer for the team, joined a group that was testing last year’s robot equipped with modifications and this year’s code. “We’re just running it back and forth to see if our prototypes are working,” he said, explaining the back-and-forth remote operation of a flat, multi-wired contraption that can catch a disc and insert it on a peg. The tests are important because this disc-on-peg operation is a central part of this year’s FIRST Robotics steampunk-themed challenge, Guyer explained.
“This is my second year, and it’s a very rewarding experience to take a game and bring a robot all the way from concept all the way to a working design that will go on to win events like we did last year,” he said.
In a separate shop, Westlake drilled holes for an “elevator frame,” something requiring much more precision.
“This radius varies slowly because we don’t know how accurate this bit is so I’m going up a 1,000th at a time, or half a 1,000th at a time,” he said.
Westlake said he plans to attend college to study computer hardware engineering.
A four-year member of the team, he said, “Now, I have a leadership position as co-captain. As the years go on, you get to learn a lot more.”
Other co-captain Cierra Pharr deals with media and publicity. Other students approach the challenge from a variety of interests. Some don’t touch the robot but develop presentations for companies or write code, Hikel noted.
The build season ends on the third week of February. Then comes a March 3 qualifying meet, the 2017 Granite State District meet at Windham High School.
Hikel said each year presents its hurdles, making the Robotics competition unique.
Football teams know every year what the rules, field and the game object look like, he explained. “Our team, we have to play a brand new game every year.”
For more information, visit firstinspires.org.
Niko Neathery (from left), David Kelley and Tim Guyer use a modified version of last year's robot to test one of the challenges, catching a disc and placing it on a peg. The Prospect Mountain High School FIRST Robotics team is preparing for district competition. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
The Prospect Mountain High team, Team 319, brings together about 30 students to develop a robot. "We've had a team at Prospect since its inception," said team mentor Brian Hikel. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
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