When Reynoldsburg High School junior Alex McIntyre isn’t in class Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Saturdays, he’s in a workshop at the district’s Summit Road campus writing computer code.
As the software lead for the district’s FIRST Robotics team, Technical Difficulties, McIntyre said he programs whatever the team needs its robot to be doing when FIRST Robotics competition begins in March.
“(In software) we generally tell the robot how to drive, depending on how we move the joysticks,” he said. “We program it to move autonomously on its own. Generally, all the things that make the robot actually function whenever we push a button, that’s what we make it do. ”
McIntyre is one of 37 students on the Technical Difficulties team, which is in the midst of constructing its robot.
The team will compete at regional competitions March 16-19 at the California University of Pennsylvania from and March 23-26 at the Cleveland State Wolstein Center, attempting to advance to the FIRST Robotics world championship at the University of Houston on April 20-23.
“It’s truly a student-driven team,” said Nadine Phillips, who teaches engineering at Reynoldsburg High School’s Livingston Avenue campus and is one of the group’s coaches. “They decide what we’re going to focus on.”
FIRST Robotics is an international competition comprising thousands of teams of high school students worldwide.
During competition, each team fields a robot that is capable of executing both remote-controlled and autonomous tasks: shooting an oversized tennis ball into a hub for points or climbing a hangar-type structure akin to monkey bars, according to a FIRST Robotics YouTube video that describes the competition.
But before the students compete, they have to build a robot.
There are multiple team subdivisions that work in conjunction to accomplish this. Senior Madison Gysan oversees the process as the team’s chief project manager.
“I have to make sure everyone’s on a set time,” she said. “And that everyone understands what the timeline is and when we’re ready to have it done by.
“And if there’s any issues that come up, I’ll make sure the other teams know what the issues are so they can prepare each other for any issues that may appear.”
Gysan, who has also served as the team’s “build lead” the past two years, said one of her main responsibilities is ensuring proper communication amongst members and in particular to make sure the team’s leads are up to speed on the tasks at hand for the day.
As of Feb. 8, Gysan said the team hadn’t named the robot, although its construction is progressing.
Senior Caitlyn Lewis is in her third year as a robotics team member. She works with Technical Difficulties’ mechanical group, and said the major systems left to develop on the robot were its intake; its shooter, which fires the oversized tennis balls; and its climber.
The robot is a large, heavy, complicated machine, Lewis said, adding that learning the mechanical and technical skills required to build it requires a learning curve.
“It definitely takes some time,” she said. “After your first year, you kind of get used to it. And by your second year, you kind of pull it all together. ”
Building and coding the robot is one thing, but the robot still needs the required electrical components and layout to power it.
This task is led by junior Prawin Parajuli, the team’s electrical lead. Most of the electrical group’s work will be conducted after the mechanical team has completed its work, he said.
“As soon as they’re done, we’ll start planning out how much space we have (to work with),” he said.
Making the task more complicated is the fact that the electrical team is limited by FIRST Robotics rules.
“FIRST Robotics has rules on what kinds of parts we can use,” he said. “So we have to check if it’s legal enough to use and buy stuff if we don’t have it.”
Technical Difficulties isn’t funded by the school district; it’s supported by sponsorships from businesses and organizations, Phillips said.
This is where senior Ariam Habtenariam comes in. As the Technical Difficulties’ outreach lead, she organizes efforts to raise funds, procure sponsorships and conduct community outreach.
“We focus on spreading our message across the community and all around, saying we’re more than robots and that we give back to our community,” she said.
One of the team’s main outreach projects is a toy drive called Toby’s Toys where the team makes interactive toys for children with disabilities, with Toby being the name of the team’s robot mascot, she said. Another project called Girls in STEM focused on encouraging girls in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The team has received a grant from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and is sponsored by automotive parts manufacturer TS Tech and electronic manufacturing services company Dynalab. Both companies have facilities in Reynoldsburg. Habtenariam said more sponsorships are in the works.
The team still has the robot named Fluke it constructed last year for the 2021 competitions, but Philips said the team gets much more out of tackling a new design annually, particularly regarding the development of members’ STEM skills and problem-solving abilities.
“We’re trying to push the growth,” she said. “It’s very easy to have a similar design year after year, but how are you going to grow?”