Let the robotics season beginBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
February 27. 2015 10:15PM
NASHUA — It was a fierce competition on Friday as dozens of young engineers kicked off the robotics season with mechanical fanfare.
Forty teams from all over New England are participating in the Granite State District Championship in the FIRST Robotics Competition this weekend, a qualifying event originally spearheaded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen to promote science, technology, engineering and math concepts.
“This is week one of four weeks of district competitions. This year’s challenge is very unique. There is no defense this time around, and there is almost always a fun twist,” said Jen Ripley, team liaison and planning committee member.
In early January, this year’s game — Recycle Rush — was unveiled to competitors and teams received their kits containing parts, motors, automation systems and limited instructions. Teams composed of students in grades 9 through 12 had several weeks to design, build, program and test a robot charged with meeting select goals.
In this year’s challenge, the robots must maneuver and stack totes, place recycling bins on top and then toss swimming-pool “noodles” — representing litter — into the bins. Drivers remotely control the robots from behind a protective, clear wall, creating alliances along the way and trying to earn additional points for various moves.
“I joined the robotics team last year and I completely loved it,” said Matthew Koble, 18, of Hollis. “The best part is overcoming the mechanical challenges in the machine shop.”
Steve Christensen of Windham is a mentor for Team Phoenix, which includes students from Nashua’s Academy for Science and Design, and some home-schooled children.
The robotics program, according to Christensen, provides students with a hands-on opportunity to operate a milling machine, use engineering tools, problem solve and create model robots.
Because his team had several new members this year, the group constructed two robots that allowed team members to compete against one another in a mini-duel.
“Competing against themselves helped the team prepare for today’s challenge, and for what lies ahead throughout the season,” explained Christensen.
FIRST students and parents are passionate about not only the competition, but the camaraderie and teamwork as well, according to organizers. Various tasks must be met in order to succeed in the challenge.
“We are tough as nails,” said Thomas King of Souhegan High School. King’s Team Entropy walked into Friday’s competition with a lot of confidence.
After scoping out their competition before Friday’s opening ceremony, the team said it was feeling optimistic about their chances.
“We are going to take first,” said a hopeful Nick Orr.
His teammate, Cassidy Alger, was one of several young ladies participating in the competition. This is Alger’s first year with the robotics team, and she said the experience has been incredible.
“I want to do engineering in college, so this is a great first step,” said Alger.
FIRST programs start in kindergarten with the Junior FIRST Lego League, followed by FIRST Lego League for grades four through eight, and then the FIRST Tech Challenge in grades 7 through 12.
More than 180 high school teams throughout New England are expected to participate in 10 FIRST Robotics Competition district qualifiers in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The teams scoring the highest points in this weekend’s FIRST Robotics Competition, which continues today, will move on to compete in the NE FIRST New England Championship at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., followed by the world competition in St. Louis.
The action continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Nashua High School South, 36 Riverside St. For more details, visit www.usfirst.org.