Moffat County Robotics gets in gear for out-of-this-world contest
Moffat County High School students are building up to something big.
MCHS is deep into the FIRST Robotics program this month as pupils with an aptitude for the engineering field roll up their sleeves to join MoCo Robo in the Colorado Regional in mid-March in Denver.
The event will bring in not only schools from across the state but also Utah, Wyoming, Kansas and international students from Mexico and Netherlands.
Teams are tasked with building machinery that can move and function in a game atmosphere, a large-scale playing field that requires multiple capabilities from each hunk of metal on the floor.
Sean Hovorka is a coach for the program after spending last year in a mentor role.
“The biggest difference is last year we had a couple teachers that were coaches, and now I’m kind of overseeing the whole thing and communicating with the school and directing the flow of the team,” Hovorka said.
Hovorka is helped along with multiple others in the mentor position, including Jeremy Boatman, Kristen Nichols, Wade Gerber, Ryan Hess, and Don Smith.
“The biggest benefit for the students is it gives them something totally different to look at,” Hovorka said. “This gives them a really fun, practical club where they can design something completely from scratch, use engineering skills and work with adults to find the best options for how to do the task at hand.”
Besides the robot work, a side project for the group is installing a new door in the workspace that includes the school’s metal shop and wood shop in the vocational and agriculture building.
Last year the program had far less space to utilize.
“Last year, we just kind of had a closet in the back where we literally had to pack everything up every day and shove it in a tiny space where we couldn’t spread out and work efficiently,” Hovorka said. “Having more space lets us spread and be more efficient, have a couple things going at the same time.”
MoCo Robo will utilize the same chassis equipment from the previous year, but most of the other details will be brand-new.
“You almost have to re-design it every year because the game is so different,” Hovorka said. “We’re trying to treat it like a project management kind of deal, where we’re going through the steps of design and drew it up on the board. Last year we just started building from scratch and wound up having to redo a lot of stuff and had a lot of wasted parts. This year we’re trying to do a lot more engineering in advance; we want to make sure everything’s built right the first time and only have to make minor changes.”
This year’s game, “Infinite Recharge,” is inspired by the droids of “Star Wars,” and robots must be able to hold their own on an obstacle course that includes using a mechanized arm, scan colors and collect and shoot small balls — power cells — at a high opening, to name a few.
Team members Cody Eckhoff and Kadin Hume are heading the programming part of the robot, which will control its mobility from a laptop.
Using the same base as last year allows them to focus their attention on other things, like coding.
“Generally in the first 15 seconds of the match this year, the robot has to be completely autonomous, so we’ll have to set up sensors on the sides so it can detect how close it is to objects and be able to navigate its way between other robots,” Hume said. “That’s gonna be our challenge for the year.”
Hume said learning the basics of coding is the hard part and it gets easier as it goes.
Not getting bored by the process of typing also helps.
“It’s not something for everyone,” he laughed.
Eckhoff said working together is key.
“It’s more of discussing what we do. There’s kind of just one person actually typing, but then we say, ‘Oh, if we do this and this and this,'” he said, noting that the person at the keyboard is equal to the rest in the brainstorming process.
Building up the robot’s full form takes many hands working in tandem, along with some trial and error.
A past year of experience makes it much easier this time around, Alex Nichols said.
“It’s easier because we already have the chassis built and a base program we had set for last year,” he said. “The chassis itself took us like a week or two to build last year. This year we were focused on getting a design down before we built. The very first thing we did this time before we even touched anything was to figure out what we’d do and get some schematics.”
The process isn’t always easy, but it’s never boring, either.
“It’s a lot of fun with some of the ideas the kids come up with and how they come up with them to tweak the robot,” Hovorka said.