FIRST Robotics competition team are finalists at Battle O' Baltimore!

October 13, 2015

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program and competitions provide one of the best platforms for young people to get excited about the challenges and rewards of engineering.
  • The FIRST Robotics Challenge Team 3941, sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., competed for and became a finalist at the 9th Annual Battle O' Baltimore.
  • As part of STEM outreach, ARL has hosted TechBrick Robotics, a FIRST Robotics organization for the past three years. TechBrick was formed in 2003 as an independent robotics and STEM education club for home-schooled and publicly and privately schooled students in Harford, Baltimore, and Cecil counties.

The FIRST Robotics Challenge Team 3941, sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, competed for, and became finalists, at the 9th Annual Battle O' Baltimore! The event is one of the premiere off-season FRC competitions on the East Coast and was held at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland, Sept. 26.

This year, 30 teams came together to play Recycle Rush. Recycle Rush is a recycling-themed game played by two cooperative alliances of three robots each. Robots score points by stacking totes on scoring platforms, capping those stacks with recycling containers, and properly disposing of "pool noodle" toys, representing litter.

Together with Team 4575, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania "Tin Mints," and Team 2528 Western High School "Robo-Doves," Team 3941 "Absolute Zero Electricity" with their robot "phAZE1," won two quarterfinal matches. They scored an average of 101 points during the three semifinal rounds in order to make it to the final round of competition.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program and competitions provide one of the best platforms for young people to get excited about the challenges and rewards of engineering. "Absolute Zero Electricity" is a relatively new team, founded in 2012.

"In the past four years (the team), as its motto suggests, has become a 'fighting force of ingenuity, innovation and teamwork,' which was demonstrated this past Saturday," said Dr. Kristin Schaefer, a post doc from ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate's Human-Robot Interaction Team. "This group of high-school students actively manage and participate in the entire engineering process from project management, design, research, testing, strategic-planning and more. They were even one of the only teams at this competition to have a student coach (rather than an adult) in the pit during competition!"

But the students were not in this competition alone. While the students were actively scouting the other teams, completing their final checklist for competition and competing, the "Absolute Zero Electricity" mentors and parents were there to support and cheer for this team to achieve victory.

The mentor team is made up of professionals with various backgrounds. They volunteer their time to not only help the students with mentoring support but by educating and helping them succeed in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM.

The team is coached by Dr. Tyrone Schwenk, a systems engineer and R6S specialist at Raytheon. It is supported by ARL researchers Dr. Rich Becker, Tim Mermagen and Dr. Kristin Schaefer; Jose Bustillos from the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center; Caitlyn Byrne, from the MITRE Corporation; Larry Kenney, from Raytheon; John Swoyer, from Exelon Generation Company; and Paul Wagner, from McCormick and Company.

"The key to this season's challenge is cooperation (the FIRST word for being both competitive and cooperative), both within the Absolute Zero Electricity Team and in choosing alliances with other teams," said Dr. Schwenk.

He said a mixture of new and returning students has coalesced into an effective team this season.

"The proof is in their performance at the Battle O' Baltimore. While learning how to work as a team, the students learn how to handle a complex technical problem. Most of our students go on to attend colleges and universities studying technical subjects, which is our ultimate goal and our success," Dr. Schwenk said.

As part of STEM outreach, ARL has hosted TechBrick Robotics, a FIRST Robotics organization for the past three years. TechBrick was formed in 2003 as an independent robotics and STEM education club for home-schooled and publicly and privately schooled students in Harford, Baltimore and Cecil counties. This program has now grown to include more than 100 active students ages 5 through high school in four different programs: Junior FIRST LEGO League, FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics Competition.

Schaefer encourages others to provide their support.

"Come support FRC Team 3941 at the 'Duel on the Delaware' on October 17th at Salem Community College, in Carney's Point, New Jersey," said Schaefer. "You will be impressed by the talent of these young people!"

 

Last Update / Reviewed: October 13, 2015