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Young minds ring up great weekend

February 22, 2013

From left, Neil Fachon, Heather Shen, Michelle Xiong, Jane Chung, Ali Marcus and Chris Luo pose prior to competition at the FIRST Tech Challenege on Saturday at New England Tech. (Photo: James Bessette)

EGHS students enjoyed time constructing robot for annual FIRST Tech Challenge
WARWICK — During the summer, East Greenwich High’s Heather Shen participated in an electrical engineering class for the first time, gaining an understanding of how machinery works through science and updated technology.
It was that first that led both her and a few of her friends to another first.
Or rather, ‘FIRST.’

Shen, along with classmates Neil Fachon, Michelle Xiong, Ali Marcus, Chris Luo and Jane Chung, spent the last few months putting their scientific minds together to come up with a remote-controlled robot and it culminated into having the machine on full display amongst other schools at the New England Institute of Technology on Saturday in the 2013 FIRST Tech Challenge.
The sextet from East Greenwich High School, which was under the direction of Keith Doucett and Yan Li, was among 32 schools that converged onto New England Tech’s Center for Automotive Technology for the annual all-day contest that featured some unique creations – put together with nuts, bolts, wires and batteries – going head-to-head for the right to being best in the state.
But long before the robot took to the 12-foot-by-12-foot squared circle against contraptions from North Kingstown, Coventry, Bishop Hendricken, etc., the process began when Shen completed her summer course and developed a tremendous enthusiasm for robotics, so much so she then asked Fachon, Marcus, Luo, Xiong and Chung if they wanted to tackle the subject and take things to the next level.
“Heather reached out to us,” Marcus said. “I guess she knew we were all interested in science and wanted to get into robotics more. It was really her initiative and we’ve been involved in every step of the way.”
“I was like ‘wow this could be a great club,’” Shen added.
From there, the group – which was known as ‘Nerds on Fire’ and were dressed in unique attire with high socks, face paint hats and even capes – spent hours upon hours afterschool just to come up with an idea of what their android would be for the competition.
Marcus said the group drew 10 sketches just to get a basic plan off of which to work. Then, Marcus said, the group went to the internet and made numerous searches of different designs and how to make a basic frame.
“And from there it was a creative process,” Marcus said. “How could we maximize our points? How could we tackle all of these obstacles? It took a while.”
What became out of the myriad of drawings and doodles and pictures was a four-wheeled robot with a single mobile arm in the front with a basket grip specifically designed for Saturday’s contest. Unlike most of the robots that were of significant stature and strength, Luo said East Greenwich’s machine was designed to be quick and not as “tanky” as the others so it can both score points by itself and be quick on defense.
During the design process, Fachon said the team’s biggest challenge was to get the lift to work on the robot. The group tried to get the scissor lift operational – which took up the bulk of the project – but was unsuccessful.
First, the team tried a gear system, but it didn’t work because, Fachon said, there was too much power for the motor to handle. Then they tried pulleys, but then found out that pulleys were not allowed for competition. At the last minute, Shen suggested a lever mechanism on the robot, which then prompted the machine ready for competition.
“We learned a lot from our mistakes,” Fachon said.
The event, entitled ‘Ring It Up,’ featured two teams of two robots competing in two-minute long matches where the object was to score points by placing plastic rings onto pegs on the center rack. Teams were also challenged to detect special “weighted” rings, which earned the competitors multiplier points.
Then, in the final 30 seconds – which was called “End Game” – each alliance attempted to lift the partner robot off of the floor by at least one inch and the higher the robot was off the ground, reaching no higher than two feet, and the higher the contraption was off the ground, the more points the teams would get.
Going forward, Shen, Fachon, Luo, Marcus, Xiong and Chung want to expand their horizons with robotics much further than New England Tech or even in their own classrooms. Shen said they have done a lot of outreach within the community, such as talking to students at Cole Middle School about robotics and hoping to get them to join once they enter the high school.
“This was a starting year,” Shen said, “and I think it was great and we’re looking forward to next year.”

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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