Gunston Students Compete in the First Tech Challenge


Eight Gunston students built a robot as part of the First Tech Challenge (FTC) competition which is sponsored by the FIRST robotics program. The Gunston Team was one of twenty teams from all across Maryland and nearby states that competed at the Naval Academy on January 22 and thirty two teams that competed at Oakland Mills High School in Howard County on the 29th of January. At these events, the robots perform complicated tasks such as pushing the correct button on a beacon, shooting balls into goals, and manipulating a large yoga ball. The game was divided into two phases. First, the robot had to perform tasks autonomously by sensing and reacting to its environment; next three students were able to control the robots using game pads.

As a team they created an engineering notebook that described their strategy, proposed designs, and problems that the team overcame along the way. At the competition the students had to describe and defend their design in front of a panel of engineers. Real world engineering challenges like FTC teach students to follow the engineering processes that they will use in their future careers.

team photo

Team Photo L to R: Sutter Phillips ’17 of Stevensville, Sam Wargotz ’17 of Grasonville, Nikki Blades ’17 of Trappe, George Bowie ’17 of Still Pond, Ryan Redding ’17 of Galena, Garrett Rudolfs of Centreville, Jamie Caron ’17 of Chestertown.

Eight students built the robot during the fall semester during their robotics course and nine building sessions over the holidays. Suter Phillips worked on design, Nikki Blades on documentation and organization, and Sam Wargotz and Ryan Redding worked on construction. Jamie Caron was the rules and strategy expert. Garrett Rudolphs and George Bowie programed robot and Alli Webb helped with diverse tasks. During the matches, George, Sutter, Garrett, and Sam took turns as acting as robot drivers and team coaches. The group was mentored by Gunston physics teacher Dr. Ken Wilson and Gunston director of technology Joe Thompson. Gunston student Sophie Cooper worked with Nikki Blades to design the team logo of a Heron built of gears.

This is the third year the the team 9530 “the Herons” participated in the FTC competition and each year the robot design has improved. Mentor Dr Wilson commented that the basic design of the robot body was the best that the Herons team had produced. Compared to their earlier efforts, this year’s robot, affectionately dubbed “Steve” by the students, was robust, easy to work on, and very nimble on the playing field.

The competitions always produce unexpected challenges and the students in the pit crew have to work out the kinks in real time under stressful conditions. The students learn how to work together as a team to systematically find and solve problems. The Gunston team performed especially well at teamwork in the pit: they were calm and focused which allowed them constantly improve their scores as they participated in a total of 10 matches across the two events.

This year’s team was primarily composed of seniors, some of whom have participated in the robotics team for several years. They bequeath to the 2018 team programs, design, and a working robot. Dr Wilson said that he is sorry to see them go but confident that the program that they have built will continue to improve over the coming years.

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