CHESHIRE – Cheshire High School senior Austin Xu recalls his introduction to robotics four years ago.
“I hadn’t been down to the first floor of the building before,” recalled Xu. “When I was in the (club) room, I had no idea what people were talking about, but they were really welcoming.”
From his humble beginning, Xu worked hard to progress into joining Joey Kosover as this year’s co-captains of the Team 999 Robotics Club.
“They (mentors and students) have given me the opportunity to learn,” said Xu, who plans to pursue engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. “I have picked up real-world experiences through this program.”
This year has been a special one for Team 999, known as the Cheshire MechaRAMS. After the pandemic caused last season to be cut short, the Rams were able to return to competition for the program’s 20th Anniversary.
“It is great to be back,” said team mentor Alex Tsekhansky. “Most events were canceled last year due to the pandemic.”
The club annually compete in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics events from January through March, but work continues throughout the school year. For competitions, the MechaRAMS created a robot in approximately six weeks.
To create the robot, 30 students broke into teams for building, programming, computer-aided design and driving.
“The students need to make everything custom,” said Tsekhansky. “The programming has to be done at the same time.”
The students created a control panel to direct the robot.
“We put a joystick and handles on a board,” said junior Andrew Gershfeld. “We spray-painted the board and painted the back.”
The project cost more than $10,000. To offset expenses, the MechaRAMS were sponsored by Medtronic, OTIS, Relocation, East Coast Mechanical, Inc., and Cheshire Public Schools.
In January, the club learned they would compete in a new program, Rapid React, for the FIRST Robotics Competition. In the event sponsored by Boeing International, schools team up to shoot red and blue cargo balls and also participate in a climbing challenge.
To start off, two alliances of three squads each take positions on a tarmac in front of a structure with two hubs. Teams can get two points by shooting a ball into the upper hub, while the lower one counts as one point.
Robots are allowed to start with one ball. During the opening 15 seconds, the machines start shooting without guidance, but for the remaining two minutes and 15 seconds, drivers can assist the robots.
“It was very interesting,” reflected Gershfeld. “It was a fun game that involved a lot of challenges. We did a lot of brainstorming and created a robot that did very well.”
The MechaRAMS inserted a censor and camera, so the machine could differentiate between the red and blue balls. For the competition, Gershfeld drove the robot and picked up balls, while junior Noah Levine controlled shooting and climbing.
“We worked well together,” said Gershfeld.
To finish the event, robots climb bars to score more points.
The MechaRAMS enjoy the chance to work with different teams.
“It is uncommon that we get to work with other schools, so that (activity) is a fun experience,” said Kosover.
To make for an even playing field, robots can only weight up to 120 pounds.
“Every robot needs to pass inspection for mechanics and programming before the competition,” said Tsekhansky.
The MechaRAMS shined in making the quarterfinals of their events on March 12-13 (Wilby High School in Waterbury) and April 9 (Hartford). At the second competition, Tsekhansky was nominated for the Woodie Flowers Award. The honor recognizes hardworking mentors.
The MechaRAMS were invited to the district championship in Springfield, Massachusetts, but didn’t end up attending the event on Easter weekend.
“We found out right before the event and didn’t feel that we could prepare in time,” said Anders.
Team 999 is now preparing for next season.
“We are planning to do summer learning for new students, so they can start off strong,” said Gershfeld.