Middle school and high school students from across the region showed off their mechanical engineering skills at Pembroke Academy as part of a skirmish that served as the final pit stop before a handful of them go on to a world championship next week.
In celebration of National Robotics Week, the Pembroke Academy Robotics Team held “Warm up to Worlds,” a robotics exhibition on Saturday. It was open to any middle school or high school level VEX Robotics team that paid the $35 registration fee.
VEX Robotics is an organization that specializes in robotics competitions where students from middle school through college are tasked with building, programming and directing a robot to complete a series of tasks.
While the event offered teams of any skill level the opportunity to test out their machines, the encounter was also a post-season chance for competitive robotics teams to work out the final kinks in their designs before they head to the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation’s VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ky., from April 24 to April 27.
“We’re promoting National Robotics Week awareness, we’re giving newbie teams a chance to compete without any worrying about qualifying or anything, and then it gives our world championship team a last chance to work and tweak their robots,” said Louann Cormier, the co-advisor to the Pembroke Academy Robotics Team.
Cormier says she’s been involved in the program since her son Nathan Cormier, now a senior at Pembroke, first took an interest in robotics at age 9.
Noting that she’s gone from working concession stands at competitions to “eating, sleeping and breathing” robotics, Cormier stated that the organization gives its young participants the chance to get hands-on engineering experience.
“When they go home from that first competition, they’ll go, ‘I know what to improve now,’ or ‘Oh! I like that idea’ — that’s real life engineering,” she said. “You prototype something; you design it; you try it out; and then you go back and say, ‘That worked well, and that didn’t work well.’ Then you go to another competition.”
Nathan Cormier himself will be going on to the championship in Louisville alongside his teammates Levi Putman and Eric Chapman, who are also seniors at Pembroke.
With Nathan serving as the team’s programmer, Putman as the mechanic and Chapman as the driver, the tech-savvy trio is looking forward to the final opportunity to test their collective mettle against thousands of competitors in Kentucky.
The three have been working as teammates throughout their high school careers, and agreed that the trial and error nature of robotics helped them to improve with each passing year.
“It was sort of a Cinderella story,” said Putman. “We were bad. Everything was so rough, but we just stuck with it. And then the next year, we made it to nationals. Each time you go to those competitions, you’re meeting people from across the country, seeing how their program works and then coming back ready to do more.”