Rian OliverChesapeake High School robotics team mentor Alex Gibson and team member Caitie Milley adjusted wires on their robot.
Rian OliverChesapeake High School Robotics team member Madison Wheeler used a lathe to prepare an aluminum cylinder while team member Trent Long (background) cut metal with the team’s mill.
Chesapeake High School Robotics Team Gears Up For Competition
It may be cold outside, but Chesapeake High School robotics team members are staying warm with steam. Seven days a week, dozens of area students and their volunteer adult mentors are hard at work designing, prototyping and building a robot for FIRST STEAMWORKS, this year’s steam-themed robotics competition offered by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
Students will travel to Haymarket, Virginia ,from March 3 through 5 and to Edgewater, Maryland, from March 24 through 26 to compete in two FIRST district qualifiers. Winners will have the opportunity to advance to district and world championships.
Though robotics is a year-round extracurricular activity at Chesapeake High School, Kathy Dougan, mentor and member of the group’s leadership team, explained, “Right now, we’re in the middle of the six-week build season. We operate seven days a week. It’s a lot of hours and takes a lot of dedication.”
Since the season kickoff on January 7, the Pasadena-based team, called C Company, has been diligently creating a robot that can perform designated tasks and adheres to this year’s theme, a tribute to the days of steam-powered machinery. Their invention is also required to stay within specific size, weight and cost parameters.
For the 46 student members of C Company, preparing for the annual challenge is a labor of love. Last year, the team logged more than 10,000 hours building its robot, and students are on track to do the same again this year. To accommodate the time demands, parents prepare dinner and provide it to the teens and their mentors at their workspace several nights a week.
“Right now, it’s really intense, but it’s really fun,” said Caitie Milley, third-year team member and this year’s captain. Milley, who also plays on the school’s varsity soccer team, said, “The competition is just as intense as a soccer game.”
Most nights of the week, Milley can be found traveling between different sub-teams housed in neighboring rooms at the squad’s workshop at Chesapeake Bay Middle School. Students from different sub-teams handle everything from marketing materials to the nuts and bolts of the physical robot.
“Toward the end of the season, we integrate all the components and we’re wiring the robot. It’s really meticulous,” explained Milley. “We’re also thinking about what looks best; presentation is really important to us.”
Anticipation is also mounting for freshman Jared Jensen, who travels from North County High School to participate on the Chesapeake High team. Jensen is preparing for his essential role in the competition: driver. Jensen, who was an alternate driver as an eighth-grade student last year, will operate the robot in this year’s games.
“I’m definitely looking forward to driving and hopefully moving us on to a championship,” he said.
Senior and third-year team member Nick Potteiger, member of the controls sub-team, is excited to see his computer programming bring the robot to life. “I like getting to see my code actually run the physical parts of the robot,” he explained.
Even though it’s his final year with the team, Potteiger hopes his experiences might make him a more competitive job candidate in the future. “I gained real life programing skills I can use in a career later on,” he added.
And while the team is focused on upcoming district events, students are staying grounded through their other mission: community outreach. In addition to building their robot, group members share their annual invention with the community to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Students delivered presentations during STEM night at the Mountain Road Library, the honor roll assembly at Jacobsville Elementary School and holiday events around the county. They are also scheduled to demonstrate their robot at the Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Museum of Industry in the spring.
With just days left to finalize the robot, Milley, who will graduate from CHS this year, admitted that her final competition is “bittersweet.” Still, she is looking forward to the culminating event. “I just hope we play to our full potential,” she said.