For the first 30 seconds, the robot has to do it all on its own, no remote control help, just a pre-programmed activity on a 12-by-12-foot field of play – and engineering students from Bayonne High School have to hope they did everything right during their team effort.
Built from scratch and often modified from competition to competition, the robot is the result of as many as 60 schools in and outside the state seeking to build the best robot to deal with a pre-designated set of goals.
This year, robots from each school have to push around a bowling ball, as well as pick up boxes that contain balls and perform other functions. Each task wins points for the competing team – with the hope that a team can qualify for a slot in the state championship, this year to be held in February at NJIT.
“Each of these competitions is like an engineering seminar.” – Christopher Kennedy
Bayonne has two teams. One team is made up of senior engineering students who must take part in order to fulfill the requirements of their field of study. The other includes a mix of upper and lower grade students who may or may not want to go into engineering, but love the field of robotics.
Since June of 2009, members of the advanced engineering class have attended several robotics scrimmages and competitions, gradually learning more about how the robots work and then improving their own robot over time.
Aloia, who oversees the program, said robotics took off last year with the input of several serious seniors who allowed Bayonne to compete in the state tournament for the first time, although members of both teams this year are propelling the program to new levels of energy as they seek to return again to state competition – and perhaps win it.
Sponsored by International Matex Tank Terminal (IMTT) of Bayonne – which wanted to support a long-term engineering project – the program began to take shape when several students wanted to do a long-term project. So Aloia asked them to start up the robotics program, which would be inherited by later classes to carry it on.
To many people’s amazement, the senior robotics team managed to earn a lot of points in the state championship and eventually was part of the winning team. To help further the program this year, some of the team from last year helped set up the school’s second team before moving on.
Same organizational structure for both teams
The two teams have largely the same structure, although the senior engineering team has only 10 members. Each of these students takes on a different role, such as modeling, documenting, or programming. The second team is pretty much the same structure, but much younger.
“Since there are more than 10 of them in the extracurricular team, we treat it as a kind of club,” Aloia said.
In order to get into the state competition, a team has to win a qualifying match. Last year, the team won on its fourth try. This year, the team will be going to two qualifying events in December and two more in January – including one at the Liberty Science Center – with the hopes of getting a slot in the February state competition to be held at NJIT.
Competitions each year are exactly the same wherever they are held. Each year, a theme is picked, this year requiring robots to pick up and relocate balls. Teams design their robots based on the challenges they know they will face. But during competition, the Bayonne team will partner with a team from another school district, and compete against partnered teams to get their robots to accomplish tasks and gain points.
There are a total of about 60 teams throughout the state competing at scrimmages and qualifying matches on many weekends throughout the school year.
Bayonne hosted one scrimmage in early November when the originally scheduled school district lost power and needed another place to hold it.
Last year, the Bayonne senior team took part in four qualifiers and finally managed to get a slot in the state competition. This year, the team is looking to repeat this and has several qualifiers upcoming.
“There are 48 slots available in the state competition,” Aloia said.
But some of these slots are taken by out-of-state or even international teams. One team came from Singapore last year.
This year, there is even more interest. While both teams are only really supposed to have 10 members, there are actually 11 involved in the senior program, and significantly more are involved in the second team as people flock to become part of making robots.
Christopher Kennedy, who is co-captain of the senior team, said he’s involved because he intends to seek a career in aerospace engineering.
“Each of these competitions is like an engineering seminar,” he said, noting that the team learns from the judges and other teams.
“The greatest challenge is working together as a team,” he continued. “We have to trust each to do what each person is supposed to do.”
Two programmers include Isaamer Saad and Kyujin Kim.
David Elias of the senior team said the competition allows the team to perfect a model, seeing how it works outside their lab.
Sebastienne Rivada, the only girl on the senior team, serves as their public relations person, photographer, documentarian, and co-captain.
“I keep everybody working together,” she said.
There is collaboration between the teams. Kennedy said seniors try to teach the other team what they learned since the seniors have had an extra year of introduction to engineering.
Reed Walden, who is co-captain of the extracurricular team, said there are a lot more freshmen coming into the program this year. While less experienced, they also bring in a lot of new ideas.