What if you had to build a robot?
What if your robot had to navigate complex obstacles and achieve tasks autonomously and by remote control while competing against other robots? What if you only had six weeks to build it and had to raise $30,000 in funding?
If this sounds like a task for NASA or SpaceX, think again. For a group of high school students at the Academy for Science & Design, a STEM school serving the Greater Nashua area, the future of robotics is now.
Each year, Team Phoenix 4-H Robotics Club (#2342), a member of F.I.R.S.T. Robotics, a not-for-profit public charity designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, embarks on a grueling six-week competition. Their mission: build the best robot they can and pit it against other robots, with the ultimate goal of advancing through rounds of local and state competition to reach the national stage.
It’s not a job for the feint-of-heart, and it can’t be done alone. There are over fifty students on the team, with members divided into teams and sub-teams to focus on different aspects of the build. Students must learn machine shop operation, programming, wiring, Computer Aided Design, project management, business fundamentals, community outreach, teamwork, and much more.
The competition requires a great deal of dedication and persistence. Students work about twenty hours a week above and beyond their school work to meet the stringent six-week deadline, and they do it completely on their own.
“We have a student-led team. Our students completely decide the game plan and the design. The students develop everything, and the adults only provide guidance,” said Amy Bewley, Mentor for Phoenix Robotics.
Despite these challenges, Team Phoenix has managed to compete every year since 2008. Participating in F.I.R.S.T. Robotics teaches students to overcome not only science and engineering problems, but also real-world business challenges such as the retention of internal knowledge, a hurdle that many businesses face in today’s job market.
“Every year there seems to be a big loss of seniors. They have a lot of knowledge and can’t pass it on, so it can be challenging to overcome the loss,” said Ellen Kedzierski, Business Sub-team Lead for Phoenix Robotics. Never to be dissuaded, Ellen and her teammates decided to innovate. “We decided to have last year’s [team] leads work closely with our current leads to pass on critical leadership knowledge.”
Working with the team also helps build personal life skills such as creativity, responsibility, critical thinking, self-confidence, and leadership,
“I’m a completely different person than I was last year. I gained charisma and the ability to talk to large groups. I love the teamwork. I’ve become acclimated with real project development strategies, and gained a level of knowledge to help teach and organize the rest of team,” said Alexander Kedzierski, Co-Team Lead for Phoenix Robotics.
While members of Team Phoenix learn design, project management, business fundamentals, community outreach, and working in a team environment, just to name a few but it’s more than a high-tech competition. For some students, it’s life-changing.
“The students and mentors I have had the privilege to work with are some of the brightest and most caring people I have ever met, and I am fortunate to be graced by them. It has been a wonderful experience … I look forward to the frenzied nights of building and learning, and the exhilarating days of competitions in the months to come,” said Chris Baxter, Phoenix Robotics Vice President and Systems Co-Lead.
Will YOU help Team Phoenix rise to this year’s challenge? The team needs to raise about $30,000 to compete!
If you’d like to help, or know someone who does, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.