News

It’s a FIRST for Sequim

by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

With a big helping hand from the Sequim JC Penney, Clallam County 4-H has created a FIRST Robotics team at Sequim High School.

 

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was started by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen, who is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Segway.

 

The FIRST Robotics Competition pairs high school students with adult mentors — primarily engineers and teachers — to design and build robots that compete against one another in what the national FIRST organization calls a high energy “varsity sport for the mind.”

 

Sequim High sophomores Heather Kovach and Ross McHenry work with assistant mentor Allen Stevens to assemble the robot’s chassis. Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig

Gena Royal, Clallam County 4-H coordinator, said the program gives students an opportunity for “hands-on learning in science, math and technology. It gives these kids a chance to see how technology can fit into their future.” She said the team members are grateful to the Sequim JC Penney, which donated $10,000 toward the project.

 

Royal described the underlying credo of the contest as “gracious professionalism. Winning isn’t as important as cooperation.”

Kicking it

In January between 80-100 Washington teams showed up for the competition’s state kickoff at Qwest Field in Seattle. While there they learned the goals for this year’s robots and picked up the robot kits.

Each kit includes motors, sensors, chassis hardware, transmissions, software packages, control systems and batteries. The kits are all identical to ensure a level starting point for all teams.

 

The contest to determine who has built the best robot will be held March 17-19, so the project has to move along quickly.

 

The kit provides the chassis; everything else is created by the teams using components, including sensors, to help the robot perform its tasks.

 

The contest consists of two parts. In the first half of the competition the robot must complete a course semi-autonomously, based on a preprogrammed path.

 

Then comes the competition, with humans and joy sticks.

 

Royal said there is “no smashing” — instead the robots must perform certain difficult functions while competing robots play defense. This year the robots have to place inflatable items on hooks. To complete the contest, each robot must deploy a smaller robot to climb a 10-foot pole.

 

Royal said because this is the first year for the Sequim team, the members will be concentrating on building a “good, sturdy chassis and playing defense.”

 

Several volunteers are helping at Sequim High, including Brad Moore, the robotics and welding instructor at the school, Royal said the competition is a natural for 4-H and its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program.

In 2011, the robotics competition will reach nearly 55,000 high school students representing approximately 2,200 teams. The teams come from every state in the United States and from countries around the world.

 

For more information on FIRST Robotics, see www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/default.aspx?id=966.

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

 

 

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