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Let's rock and robot! Game time draws near for BHS’s first ever Robotics Club

Bainbridge High School robotics club mentor Stephen Hellriegel, a professional electrical engineer, assists BHS senior Ben Cowan in troubleshooting the team robot’s pneumatic-powered control system.  - Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review
Bainbridge High School robotics club mentor Stephen Hellriegel, a professional electrical engineer, assists BHS senior Ben Cowan in troubleshooting the team robot’s pneumatic-powered control system.
— image credit: Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

A group of teenagers from a small island community must surmount the odds and learn to work together as they engineer and construct a sophisticated robot to compete in a national robotics challenge.

If you think this is the plot of a John Hughes movie, you’re wrong (but wouldn’t that have been cool?).

It’s actually real life at Bainbridge High School where, over the past several months, 35 students and nine adult mentors have come together to form the school’s inaugural robotics club: The Bainbridge Spartronics.

The Spartronics will complete their customized robot and compete in at least two district competitions before setting their sights on the annual FIRST Robotics Competition later this year.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a national non-profit organization which seeks to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills.

The FIRST Robotics Competition, called “the varsity sport for the mind,” challenges teams around the country to construct skill-based robots to compete in various fields of play.

According to the FIRST public website, “Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand, hone teamwork skills and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.”

Not wasting any time, the newly formed Spartronics have hit the ground running in their first year on the circuit and have already received the support of nearly a dozen local sponsors.

“Despite this being our first year, we have received tremendous support by the community and sponsors,” said Spartronics Head Coach and BHS physics teacher Enrique Chee. “Strong local support from terrific companies has allowed us to print team T-shirts, banners and stickers without charging team members.”

Chee added that what the Spartronics lack in experience, they more than make up for in quality mentorship.

“Our mentors are Bainbridge Island engineers, programmers, business and marketing executives who live here and are lending their time and talents to help the team learn,” Chee said. “This could not work with just a teacher. We need the mentors.”

Students on the team agree that the presence and teaching of the mentors has made all the difference in getting the robot ready.

“You don’t really need to know that much about robotics,” BHS senior Ben Cowan confided. “I didn’t. We have these mentors, and a few kids who know what they’re doing. They teach everyone else. We have incredible mentors and a good amount of money for a rookie team. We’re really lucky.”

Cowan said he was familiar with the FIRST competitions, but with no such program available at Bainbridge he didn’t think much of giving it a try, until this year.

“I had heard about it but I didn’t know if it would actually happen,” he said of the team. “I’ve always loved tinkering with things, but I’m not planning on being an electrical engineer, or an engineer at all. I love combining all the different aspects of the team. Having this experience as a senior is reminding me how much I love this type of stuff.”

The departments and responsibilities of the team ensure that there is a right place for every interested student.

“The team combines CAD, programing, web design and marketing, science, math and construction,” explained Chee. “That’s what makes this program so popular. There’s a place for everyone.”

The groups within the team have to communicate and agree on deadlines during the design and construction process. It does the team no good if the builders are ready and the programers aren’t done yet. This kind of large group collaboration is a very valuable life lesson, Chee said.

“It’s really not about building this robot,” he explained. “It’s about them learning to communicate and work as a team.”

That being said, FIRST robotics is ultimately a competition, right?

It sure is, and the first real test for the Spartronics is coming up quickly.

The team has only six weeks, which started on Jan. 4, to construct their robot based on strict rules set in place by the officials at FIRST before facing their initial real-world test March 6 at the first regional event at Glacier Peak High School.

“We’re doing a pretty good job for the first time,” Chee said of the team. “We’ve been fortunate enough to minimize fundraising through grants and sponsors. For some rookie teams money becomes an issue.”

Considering the response from the community sponsors, and the obvious enthusiasm of the student participants, why has BHS never had a robotics team before?

Chee, who had participated in the program when working at a different high school previously, said that in years past there had been a lack of willing support around Bainbridge.

“Years ago there was no monetary support,” he said. “No willing mentors.”

That, clearly, is no longer the case.

To learn more about the team, and to learn all the latest Spartronics news, visit the website designed and updated by the team’s marketing group at www.spartronics4915.com.

 

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