For the last 21 years at Cheshire High School, the Team 999 MechaRams Cheshire Robotics Club has enjoyed building their own machine and then seeing how it performs in competitions.
The club takes part in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) events from March through June.
“You learn so much,” said senior Sagarika Srinivasan. “When you take math and trig (classes), you wonder when you will use this stuff, but then you get involved in this (robotics) and see how these concepts apply in real life.”
This year, the MechaRAMS had the opportunity to display their hard work out of state. For the first time in seven years, the club qualified for the First Championship world competition and got to send 24 students to Houston, Texas from April 19-22.
“It was a lot of fun to come up against teams from different countries,” reflected Esha Josyula.
From around the globe, 619 squads participated in a game called CHARGED UP. For the activity, two alliances of three teams compete to score points by putting cubes and cones below or on top of node poles. They can get additional points by charging at a station in the middle of the grid.
Robots can start preloaded with a cube or cone. Alliances can also decide where to put four additional pieces.
During the opening 15 seconds, robots are autonomous in that they have no guidance from their drivers. Robots can score points by placing preloaded pieces on poles, collecting and bringing over other objects, and charging in the middle station.
In the final two minutes and 15 seconds, drivers take control of the robots. The machines continue to pick up and transfer objects to gain points.
Each alliance works on a community of three grids. If an alliance is able to have three pieces put a single row, they earn a sustainability bonus.
As time is running out, robots race to charge stations. Alliances earn points for each machine that is docked or engaged with the station.
The highest-scoring alliance wins the match.
“You ally with other teams, but the teams rotate during the competition,” said MechaRAMS mentor Kurt Anders. “You want to work together to score as many points as possible.”
Competing in the Hopper Division for the world competition, the MechaRAMS finished 11th in Connecticut and placed in 51st overall out of 77 teams.
The champion, Ventura, California, came out of their division.
“We were in the hardest division in the competition,” said Srinivasan. “We got to compete against the best in the world.”
The MechaRAMS spend considerable time building their robot. Students divided into teams to work on building, computer-aided design (CAD), programming, and driving. Mentors provide equipment for team members to use in the classroom.
“People all work in here,” said sophomore Zhiyuan Huang. “We prepare the robot ourselves.”
To control the robot, the students devised a panel board and put a pair of joy sticks on it. This year, senior Andrew Gershfeld and sophomore Omkar Narayanan served as drivers.
“It was amazing,” said Gershfeld. “It felt good to compete for one more year.”
Gershfeld has been part of the club since his freshman year.
“I’ve learned more every year and have had the chance to share that (knowledge) with younger drivers,” explained Gershfeld.
In January, clubs learn the tasks for robots and then adapt their machines for competition. After robots had been throwing objects in recent years, there was a shift this year to asking them to pick up balls and cubes.
“It was different than in past years,” said junior Nate DellaCroce. “It had been mostly about shooting, but this time, you had to pick things up and carry them. It was fun.”
On March 11-12, the MechaRAMS kicked off their season in the New England District Waterbury Event Competition. In forming an alliance with Black Magic and Gus Robotics, the team came in fourth place during the playoffs.
The MechaRams also received the Team Sustainability Award.
For their second competition on April 1-2, the team traveled to Hartford Public High School. MechaRams placed third out of 40 squads in the qualifying round.
In the finals, the squad formed an alliance with the Wired Boars Team 7407 (Choate Rosemary Hall) and Dragons Hartford High School Team 1991. The group finished third overall.
Additionally, the MechaRAMS received the Gracious Professionalism Award for assisting other teams with programming on their robots.
“We helped one of the teams who were missing a programmer,” said Huang. “We helped them with development.”
After competing locally, the MechaRAMS were invited to the New England First District Championship on April 6-8 in West Springfield, Massachusetts. In placing 20th, the team qualified to compete in the world event, but they still had to start fundraising to go on the trip.
For registration alone, the local, district, and world competitions combined to cost $15,000.
“The kids had to set up gofundme pages to raise money,” said mentor Cindy Russell.
The MechaRAMS rely heavily on sponsors for their activities, as well as on raising money to get pieces.
“We couldn’t have gone on the trip (to Houston) without them,” stated Russell.
At the suggestion of friends, junior Noah Sussal joined the club in January. He enjoyed getting to help build the robot and make repairs in the assembly pit.
“I’m very much looking forward to next year,” said Sussal.
After participating in last Sunday’s Cheshire Memorial Day Parade, the MechaRAMS are now focusing on the state championship to be held June 23-24 at Glastonbury High School.
The club has started recruiting students to join them next year.
“It (robotics) builds on real-life experiences,” said Huang. “You get to work on things first hand.”