School is not in session today
For the second year in a row, the CoRE (Comet Robotics Engineers) Robotics team from Sandy Creek Middle/Senior High School will be headed to Louisville, KY to the VEX Robotics World Competition, where teams from all over the globe will come together in the prestigious competition. The team earned the honor by winning the Northern New York State Championship in the SRC Arena in February.
The Sandy Creek team is coached by John DeGone, technology teacher in the district who talked about the improvements the team has made over last year. “We came in with a more focused design and started earlier than last year.” Last year the team did not even start on their first bot until November and one team member said they were often coding and building bots in the truck on the way to competitions.
This year’s team is quite young with only two returning members from last year’s team and includes students in grades 8-11. They began working last summer to develop the competitive bots that would be used in the competitions and focused their season on making it back to the VEX Worlds. At the start of the year, DeGone asked the students what they wanted their focus to be: winning individual competitions or aiming for the state championship tournament? The answer was, of course, that they wanted to win the state tournament and go back to the world competition again. Their dedication to that goal and the team’s commitment to robotics is paying off. “The amount of time and effort they have put in is second to none. Their effort speaks volumes to their character,” he said, adding that the accomplishments by the team “shows what a few people who are really dedicated to a cause can do.”
DeGone also credits the incredible support the team has been given by the Sandy Creek Central School District for their success. “We are very, very lucky to have a district who has supported us 100%,” he said, noting that many of the teams they face do not have that support system in place. The team members echoed the sentiment saying that the support allows them to focus entirely on the robot without having to worry about fund-raising or finding space to meet.
This year’s VEX 2017 competition requires student-built robots, in alliances of two teams to be maneuvered around a 12’ x 12’ arena and perform several tasks to score points. The object is to score more points by moving large rubber stars and soft fabric cubes into zones in the opponents’ area. Scores can also be obtained by hanging the bot from a high or low bar during the autonomous or driver-controlled time period.
Early in the season the team dealt with a few setbacks, including one issue with static electricity that nearly side-lined the team. The bot did not encounter any issues in the practice arenas, but when in the competition arena, the bot would shut down after only 15 seconds in the driver-controlled portion. After trying nearly everything, it was finally determined that a buildup of static electricity in the mechanism that counts the number of rotations in the wheels caused the problem. A simple override of that counting system solved the problem. As they move to the world competition, that ability to precision focus could be what the team will need to be successful.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said DeGone. The young team plans to use this year to build a reputation by being more visible, showing good sportsmanship and working their way up in the rankings. Exposure to cultural diversity is one aspect of the competition that DeGone emphasized as an opportunity for his students, who come from a small, rural, upstate community. An opportunity they might not have without robotics.
“I told my students the number one thing I want them to do is to experience the cultural diversity at worlds because it is an event like no other unless you are going to the Olympics. Last year we had Japan on one side of us and Syria on the other. This year it will be Taiwan and Malaysia. We get to experience all of these different cultures in one spot and while we may not speak the same language, we all speak robot.”
Their plan for the world competition is simple: “On the first day we are going to go out and rock the skills arena,” said DeGone noting that it is the skills portion, which is driver and programming together, that determines overall ranking in the world. After that, they will focus on a design award or a build award and work their way up from there. The team earned a trophy in both design and create categories at the New York State VEX Competition.
DeGone predicted that the trend for their small team to excel will continue. “We are a solid team that has good work ethic, good design principles, all of our ducks in a row, and we are going to be back year after year.”
For the second year in a row, the team advances to the VEX World Competition, but they plan to make this a yearly trip and hope to say to the teams gathered: “Remember us, we are going to be big one day.”
The VEX Robotics World Championship will be held on April 19-25 in Louisville, KY where 1,400 teams from around the world will vie for the top spot in the largest and fastest growing international robotics program.
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