The Robots Are Coming: Lynn Robotics Team Shows Dedication to the Task

Dan Cornelius repairs the communication power circuit during a competition at Northeastern University last weekend.

Dan Cornelius repairs the communication power circuit during a competition
at Northeastern University last weekend.

When one thinks about high school, they don’t usually think of kids building seven-foot robots that will compete in nationwide competitions, but that would be wrong.

For the past nine years, the Lynn Schools have taken part in the US First Robotics competition.

Students from all three high schools meet every school day after classes at Lynn Tech to design, build and operate their robot. Every year, the specifications for what the robot must do at the contest are different, so each year a new robot is needed. Currently in charge of the program is Mike Pickering, who came to Lynn Tech in 2012.

“We have three GE engineers that work with us,” said Pickering. “The kids get a lot of help, and learn a lot about what makes a robot work. It’s an after school club; it gives the students an opportunity to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), electricity and robotic engineering.”

“I like building stuff. It’s pretty cool this school has this,” said ninth grader Reece Archer.

Reece has spent nearly every day after class from 2:30 to 6 p.m. working on the robot.

The team has to raise all the money they need to run the program, which last year came to almost $13,000. This money is needed to both build the robot and to pay to compete in the matches. GE sponsors the team and provides funding and tech support. The rest of the money is raised by the students and local business donations.

“It used to be just a regional competition, so your team would just compete once,” said Paul Woodlley.

Woodley has been helping the team design and build robots on his own personal time since 2006.

“Now they (First Robotics) have opened it up so we can compete in more competitions,” he added.

The $5,000 entry fee gets them into two district competitions.

“There are about 40 teams in a district competition,” said Pickering. “All teams eventually play on another.”

“This year the games are really hard,” said Woodlley.

This year the game is titles RECYCLE RUSH. Robots have to stack totes on top of each other and then place a recycling trash barrel container on top of that stack. The robots must also work autonomously for 15 seconds of the round, doing all the work without human controllers.

To practice for this game, the students build two robots, one for them to practice with and experiment on ,and another for the actual competition. Students use the practice robot, the prototype, to get used to maneuvering the robot to lift and move the totes around. Students also work on the electrical and control systems so that they learn how to repair their actual robot should something go wrong during the games.

This year also hasn’t been easy for the team. At the first district match, the team’s computer programmer couldn’t make it, and they had problems with the robot’s operating system. They also lost more than 10 days of building and practicing due to snow.

“We’re hoping to do a lot better; we have worked out a lot of the bugs,” said Pickering.

“We’re working better,” said Mario Centofanti, a junior on the team who has been involved since freshmen year.

Centofanti wants more students to join up and help.

“It’s one of those things that many kids join, but drop out when they realize how much time is involved,” he said.

This year the team has a lot of freshmen that have stayed on and love the program.

This past weekend, on March 28, the team competed at Mathews Arena at Northeastern. The team was up against schools all over New England, some with more funding and more fans. That didn’t deter the Lynn team.

They played on and did their best.

“My goal is for our team to be in the top 50 percent; if we win that’s a bonus,” said Pickering.

Some of the team actually started helping out in 8th grade.

Skyla Repecko and Danielle Davis started coming after school when they were in 8th grade with Davis’s sister, Victoria, who has since graduated.

“We’d come after school on the bus,” said Davis. “It was a great experience. We would come in and would be already working on a robot that year.”

That hooked them and the two, now sophomores, have been together working on the robots ever since.

Pickering and Woodlley hope that more students will get involved and hope to grow the program to better compete with some of the better-funded schools. Some of these schools show up to the competition, he said, with busloads of students and fans.

Lynn doesn’t have that.

They work and compete on their own merits and pride.

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