Robotics 612


Tina Nguyen and Alina Besalel

The most important six weeks of the year for Chantilly’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team have just come to an end, and as the month of February progresses, the team is working diligently in preparation for the 2015 Robotics Game.

This year’s game, Recycle Rush, is a challenge where all the pieces used in the game are either reusable or recyclable, aside from the components of the robot. It is played by two Alliances of three robots each. Robots can score points by stacking a series of totes, placing recycling bins on top of the stacks, and disposing pool noodles (representing “litter”), into the recycling bin.
“Build season is what the team is for,” senior and Public Relations Captain Mary Lai said. “This is go-time for us. It’s the longest six weeks and the most rewarding six weeks, watching everybody come together as a team once you get to the end of the season.”
In the heat of Build Season, members of Team 612 described robotics as requiring the dedication of a varsity sport.
“It’s really more like a sport than a club,” Alumnus and former Marketing Director Taylor Matthews said. “It’s a nerd sports team. I think that to call it the robotics club is to make it smaller. It’s definitely the robotics team.”
Members describe the team as a cohesive and supportive team during off-season mentoring of first year team members.
“Everyone looks at me like an equal,” freshman Paola Henriquez said. “They don’t underestimate me. [Most] sports teams aren’t that accepting toward freshmen, but robotics gives everyone a chance.”
Chantilly Robotics is one of the best opportunities offered by any high school for students interested in going into the STEM field, providing a realistic portrayal of jobs in the engineering, business, electrical, public relations and computer-aided design fields. FIRST is an international STEM program that gives young scholars opportunities to work with resources and in fields they would not otherwise have access to. The team has had mentors from major technological companies such as NASA and Verizon.
The Programming sub-team writes all the software to run the robot, debug and ensure that the code works as it was intended.
Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) constructs a model of the team’s robot using computer software to form objects in virtual space.
“We use a computer program to make a virtual model of parts to put on a robot,” Senior and CAD Captain Borah Hong said. “We assemble those components together to make the robot in a virtual space first.”
CAD also creates blueprints for the Mechanical sub-team to build the robot. While it is “an easy learning curve” to understand the process 612 uses for computer animation, Hong described the real challenge in conceptualizing the design of the robot.
“What’s satisfying for me is seeing something that was once conceptual in a virtual space is now tangible,” Hong said.
The Electrical sub-team is in charge of all the electrical aspects of the robot building, such as designing the electrical board and connecting components.
Robotics typically meets after school every Wednesday, but during build season the team meets virtually every day.
“It’s always a time crunch. It’s difficult and it’s stressful, but all worth it in the end,” Senior and Electrical Captain Michael Nelson said.
The Marketing team promotes and seeks sponsorship for 612. It consists of two subteams, Public Relations and Business. Marketing lays the groundwork for the Chairman’s Award during build season.
The Chairman’s Award is the most prestigious award a FIRST team can achieve. It is given to the team that best represents a model for other teams to follow. The Marketing sub-team writes an extensive Chairman’s Presentation essay and creates a three-minute video to focus the judges’ attention on the best aspects of the team.
“Winning the Chairman’s Award or the Engineering Inspiration Award would automatically qualify you for World’s,” Senior and Marketing team member Elias Hassan said.
Last year’s team received the Engineering Inspiration Award, which demonstrated their all-around excellence and commitment to the challenge and to each other.
“If you win Engineering Inspiration, NASA will pay for your competition entrance fee of $4,000,” Hassan said.
During the off-season, Marketing works primarily on setting up projects, outreach events, promoting STEM subjects, team spirit and fundraising. The Chantilly Robotics team requires between $40-60,000 a year, usually funded through corporate sponsorships.
Last year, 612 started an outreach project to bring FIRST Lego League (FLL) to students in Belize. FLL is the introductory middle school level of competitive robotics, and transitions into FIRST. They have sent a proposal to the embassy of Belize to start five FLL teams.
“Belize is a very poor country with incredibly bad gang issues and high murder rates,” Matthews said. “The more kids that have something to do, the fewer kids will end up in the street in gangs. These kids are incredibly smart. I am proud of them, and proud of 612 that they have volunteered to help.”
Chantilly Robotics has not only strived to make a change in other countries, but also influenced its own members’ lives beyond the scale of 612.
“I’m learning so many new things about myself, about math and science,” Henriquez said. You get to see what you’re learning and feel that team effort and that passion.”