SALAMANCA — The Salamanca Warrior Robotics Team earned a state qualifier title and two commendations after three days of intense drills and virtual competition at the annual Excelsior tournament.
FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), formerly known as FIRST Vex Challenge, is an international robotics competition for students in grades 7-12. Students compete head-to-head by designing, building and programming a robot against other teams.
“Over the last several decades, the industrial economy has shifted from a business model built on repetition and partitions to a system economy, driven by information, application of knowledge and innovation,” said Aaron Straus, STEAM coordinator. “Through competitions such as First Robotics, students can gain a better understanding of how to manage projects and to gauge and structure innovation collaboratively.”
The Excelsior Qualifier Championship, hosted by Monroe Valley Community College, draws from 23 individual school teams. Salamanca’s robotics crew needed a top spot to advance to the state and national competitions.
The team tallied six matches in the qualification round to become the top seed going into the semi-finals, where Salamanca earned the best design award and will move on to nationals in late spring.
The Salamanca school district is one of the movers and shakers in the STEAM robotics platform, said superintendent Robert Breidenstein. “The team’s creativity, ingenuity and technical skills have been instrumental in their continued success,” he added.
The STEAM programs Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD), or Warrior Robotics, began in the 2017-8 school year by science teacher Cheryl Johnson. In 2018, the program took home the Rookie Seed Award for its innovative robot design at the FRC Championship. The following year, the team attended the international competition in Quebec City and was awarded the Creativity Award for their innovative “targeting and drive base design.”
“We’ve been slowly building our program for the last four years,” said Johnson.
“There have been baby steps, giant leaps and, of course, some opportunities for learning,” added robotics class teacher Kim Dry, who facilitates the combined Vex/First/Arduino robotics class elective.
This year, Salamanca used fabricated and custom parts to build their FTC robot. The high school partnered with team sponsor Horschel Brothers Precision, which provided stock aluminum materials and blank bevel gears. The team then produced the rest of their designs on machines in the high school’s STEAM Center, which opened less than a year before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Due to COVID-19 and limited virtual resources and time in building space, we had to get creative with this year,” said Johnson.
According to students, the competition inevitably brought other, unexpected challenges, but that experience helps to hone engineering skills.
“With only a few weeks to build robotic creations featuring varying degrees of automation, including a mechanism to pick up and aim an object, anything could go wrong,” said senior Connor Klute, robotics president, “so we guided the team through the Design Engineering Process.”
“What is particularly impressive is how the veteran robotic team members have assumed an additional role of mentors to the next generation of robotic warriors,” said Breidenstein.
This learning opportunity was found especially true for Salamanca’s FTC second-generation team.
“You have to make many mistakes to arrive at an answer,” said freshman Drake Terhune. “For example, while we were trying to pick up materials with the robot’s mechanical ‘scoop,’ we found that the motor did not have enough torque. Torque is the ‘moving force’ that can cause an object to rotate about an axis, or in this case, pick up an ovoid material. We tested a dual-motor setup of their design, which we proposed would address the issue of torque.”
“This was hard at first because, in general, the school teaches students how to get the right answer in school,” said sophomore Mitchell Schanufer, “but robotics engineering does not have a right answer but rather solutions. And it is our job to create one.”
Warrior Robotics is part of Salamanca School District’s premier STEAM K-12 Initiative. The Warrior Team competes in National finals in May.