Robotics, March 2018

Members from Team 5450 work to problem solve issues on their newest competition robot. Left to right: Sam Shiel, mentor Andrew Niemi, mentor Mike Shiel, Evan Garrison, (Abby Marx stands behind Garrison), AJ Jennings, Lillian Niemi

Julie Thompson

On Friday, March 2, the St. Helens Robotics Team 5450 hosted a “Robot Reveal Party” in the St. Helens High School Commons to unveil their most recent build for this year’s upcoming competition. Mayor Rick Scholl and Superintendent Scot Stockwell were both on hand for the festivities, where members of the community had a chance to see the 2018 competition robot in action.

This year’s ambitious project is a mechanized catapult that Team Captain Lillian Nimei said has forced the team to “think outside of the box.” The robot is equipped with an arm that is able to pick up crates and boxes via the implementation of flywheels before launching them towards their destination. “We’d never done a catapult before so we’re trying new things,” Nimei said. “We’ve really avoided playing it safe.”

The reveal party was the first time the team has had a chance to put the robot through some serious testing, and Nimei said she was happy with how things were going. Team 5450 is now just two weeks out from their first battle: the Sundome event in Yakima, Wash. on March 15.

This year has seen an overturn in leadership after their seniors graduated. Many of their lead members this year have never been lead members before. “We’ve got more girls this year,” Team Captain Abby Marx said. This year we have five out of 18 or 19 team members. Two are from our junior class and they’re joining as first year members because they were scared to join in the past.”

Marks said there is a stigma around the robotics team that suggests you have to be a “smart kid” to join. But, Marx said, “Honestly, everyone is a smart kid and there’s a place for everybody on the team.”

As part of that recruitment process, the group engages in a preseason challenge that is less strenuous to introduce new members to the world of robotics. This year, they built what they call “Bunny Bot,” a simple bot assembled from miscellaneous “stuff” designed to pick up stuffed rabbits from a five gallon bucket. “It’s a way to get new members into robotics and show them this is kind of what we’re doing, but have it super low pressure, not super scary with all the rules and stuff,” Marx said.

When Marx begins to explain what being a member of the robotics team entails, it is easy to see why new members might need an easy introduction. These students don’t just build a robot. There is complex programming involved, presentations to give about “gracious professionalism” and grants to write to fund their projects. Marx operates as business lead, works on the outreach team, and in fabrication. Nimei, who also works in fabrication, designed and printed this year’s t-shirts. “We do a lot of the business stuff like writing award submissions, making our business plan,” Nimei said. “We’ve been really trying to get more people trained on all the tools and stuff so we’re capable of doing more things.”

The one thing that comes across in each team member is their passion for their projects, and lead fabricator Sam Shiel said most of them are looking into engineering or other fields they’ve gained experience in through the class. “One thing robotics does is it provides a lot of real world, hands on experience,” Shiel said. “Not just for building or programs, but for writing different grants for money and the business side.”

First year team member Arthur Jerome joined because he’d always had an interest in robotics and building. “It’s a great experience for students and it’s really fun,” he said. “I’d never even touched design software before or used a lot of the tools that we’ve been using, so I’m getting a lot of skills I wouldn’t have gotten.”

Another first-year member, Rylee Marks, who Marx and Nimei convinced to join, said the hard work has been worth it. “Some parts of it are really hard, but they know I’m a first year member so they kind of help me through it,” she said. “It’s a really fun environment. Everyone gets along really well. It’s nice to be able to spend time with everybody after school and make this project happen.”

And, there are even further goals beyond life skills and competing. “One of the important things we want to do is get more robots in the community,” Marks said. Their hope is to start a team at the elementary school and middle school so that students can get to know what robotics is about at a younger age and grow through the program. “Because this is all part of the future and it’s important to empower kids to let them know that they are smart and they can do things like this.”


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