CHESHIRE — This year marks a special occasion for Cheshire High School’s Team 999 Robotics Club.
The MechaRAMS are celebrating 20 years in existence, and are excited to return to competition this year, after last year’s statewide robotics tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Although the season was abruptly canceled in 2021, Cheshire High School still came out as a winner in the one competition in which they did compete, and they hope to defend their title in 2022, as well as compete against some of the best young minds in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
This year’s team consists of 30 CHS students, many of whom have been involved in these types of robotic competitions since they were in elementary school.
“I love getting involved with the robotics community. It’s why I still come back even after I graduated two years ago,” said Derek Russell, a junior at the University of Connecticut and the Team 999 historian. “I got involved in robotics when I was young, my brother did it first and then my sister, and it’s something I was really excited to get involved with.”
Russell’s passion for the program remains evident, as he comes back to help students with their programming skills and teach the younger generation some tricks he learned throughout his time on the team.
“It’s really surreal helping out the team now that I’ve graduated,” he said. “I walk that fine line between helper and friend, which is fun for them and it keeps me excited to learn from them just as they do from me.”
This year, Team 999 will once again be competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition, with the theme being “Rapid React,” which challenges students to build a robot that can accurately throw a blue or red ball into a bin and traverse a variety of obstacles to gain points. For the first two-plus minutes of the challenge, the robot must operate without any steering or guidance from the team, while in the second half, the team can operate the robot. This year’s challenge is sponsored by Boeing International.
“These kids work so hard and they’ve created some really incredible robots here,” said Scot Smith, team mentor. “Despite having our season cut short last year, we entered into an alliance with Waterbury and ended up winning that competition, so I am so excited to see where we can take this team this year.”
Smith got involved when his two daughters were team members and has been a mentor ever since.
“These kids don’t often get the same recognition as those who are in sports, but they definitely put in the same amount of effort and work to build and compete in these competitions,” Smith added. “I am so proud of them and what they are able to do.”
The assignment for this year’s competition was revealed on Jan. 8. Team 999 has already begun brainstorming and making robot prototypes.
“What I love most about this team is that we get to make a tangible product at the end,” said team captain and senior Austin Xu. “There is a lot of pride in watching something you made be able to compete and win. It’s such an enjoyable hobby.”
As captain, Xu makes sure everyone follows the team plan and can execute their tasks accordingly.
“We have three separate areas. There’s a design team, a drive team, and a building team,” Xu explained. “My job is to oversee each and make sure everything runs smoothly.”
The first competition for Team 999 is on March 12 at Wilby High School in Waterbury. Until then, the team will be busy designing and building their robot.