Robotics Club isn't just for geeks

Students from around the world witnessed the unveiling of this year's FIRST Robotics challenge on Saturday, Jan. 9. The FIRST Robotics club from Shenendehowa was among the five local teams that shared this global experience and it's already hard at work brainstorming what will make their robot the best at navigating this year's game, which is similar to soccer.

Rose Barra, faculty advisor and teacher at Acadia Middle School, said the program is organized to inspire kids from all over the world to get an experience where they're faced with not having enough money or time to build a robot that will best play a game. After the unveiling, teams have six weeks to create and perfect a robot. A large group of engineers from businesses in the community, like GE, volunteer their time to work with students. Their expertise makes the experience all the more valuable and lets the kids really learn at a deeper level, said Barra.

Barra said games are designed so groups of robots work together as an alliance, not one on one, which fosters cooperation and strategizing between schools facing each other. Once the game is unveiled, the club starts to work on understanding the rules, thinking of strategy and about how the robot will look to best succeed in the game.

It's a lot of brainstorming and listening to each other's ideas. That's the part kids love; being as creative as possible without someone telling them they're wrong, said Barra.

Brainstorming and strategy is at the core of the challenge and Ken Angeliu likes to be right in the middle of it. The junior has been in the club for three years and helps with design and strategy.

"I use Autodesk Inventor, which is a 3-D modeling program. We use that to prototype a robot and build it on the computer first so we're able to find any flaws. We make dimensioning sheets for the engineers to actually machine the parts, it's basically for planning purposes to make sure everything works and fits together," said Angeliu, who said he had no prior knowledge of the program and learned to use it from the engineer mentors.

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