• Megann Horstead

Dist. 204 FIRST Robotics team unveils, tests new robot


Students in Joliet Township High School District 204’s Joliet Cyborgs group unveiled their new robot Cerberus during a Feb. 16 community exhibition.

The event is more than a showcase of the work of Dist. 204’s FIRST Robotics Team, it allows the team to conduct a test run.

FIRST Robotics is a competition meant to simulate a real-life engineering problem Each year, under strict rules, limited resources, a six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors.

East Campus science teacher and lead mentor Tom Connelly gave credit to the students for their time spent working the last five weeks.

“They designed everything, they programmed everything, they come up with the marking strategy for it, they write up a whole business plan and everything,” he said. “Us, as mentors, we’re just here to help facilitate their ideas, basically.”

Students started their six-week build season for Joliet Cyborgs in January, with the first week-and-a-half devoted to brainstorming. By week two and three, they were prototyping their designs and creating a working model. Around this time, designs were also being finalized. Week four and five were spent fabricating the robot for use in competition. At week six, students are scheduled to begin practicing.

By way of Greek mythology, Cerberus is a three-headed dog. Students selected the name because they wanted to convey how their robot has three main functionalities

The Joliet Cyborgs will compete in the Central Illinois Regional and Midwest Regional FIRST Robotics Competitions in March and April.

Connelly said it’s nice how the experience is designed to provide students with real world applications where the field of science meets technology.

“The great thing about this is it’s project-based learning at its finest,” he said. “They’re learning on the fly: ‘How electricity works? How wiring works? How programming works?’ They talk about the basic physics of construction. ‘If we put something here, how’s the force going to be compared to if we put it somewhere else?’ They’re learning these basic design principles, and the nice thing is that there’s a goal to it; there’s a reason why they do it. That’s the competition part that builds in [a] motivation factor for the kids that they might not have in school.”

The students demonstrated their robot to a crowd of parents, sponsors and alumni. Cerberus had to pick up a gear, launch whiffle balls through the air and climb up a rope.

The Joliet Cyborgs was founded in 2011 and this year will mark the sixth consecutive year they’ve participated in the Midwest Regional FIRST Robotics Competition.

The team is divided into groups with emphasis on building, programming, design, media and organization.

West Campus student and build team leader Issael Cordoba is one of 37 members of this year’s Joliet Cyborgs club. He said he likes the challenge of working with his classmates to create a robot.

“[FIRST Robotics is] very strict about a lot of rules,” Cordoba said. “You have to be in certain weight [and] certain size. We all have these ideas, but they have to fit in the restrictions.”

This year is Cordoba’s second year as a member of the Joliet Cyborgs.

He recalled the atmosphere created during one of last year’s FIRST Robotic competitions as an experience that excites a number of feelings.

“Being at a basketball stadium full of people rooting for robotics, it was overwhelming,” Cordoba said, noting that he imagined the event being held on a smaller scale.

Cordoba said though some might not recognize FIRST robotics as a sport, it’s important that people work to change that.

“Athletes practice for multiple hours, and we meet until 10 [p.m.] sometimes,” he said. We put more than like hundreds of hours into this robot.”

Connelly shared that sentiment.

“One of the taglines of FIRST [Robotics] is this is a sport where everyone can go pro,” he said. “Anyone that does this can be an engineer, can do marketing and media—which is another big part of what we do—can be a programmer. Keeping that competitive aspect is really important.”

#education #technology

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