Moffat County robotics team programmed for success at regional meet
Each year contains different goals, a shakeup of team members and a plethora of knowledge learned from previous events, and the Moffat County robotics program will be taking all that into competition this week.
MoCo Robo is headed to the Colorado Regional on Wednesday, March 22, in Denver as part of FIRST Robotics Competition.
The event is a worldwide program that is part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which is designed to enhance STEM learning for students in preschool through 12th grade through building, programming and maintaining robots.
Team coaches Kristen Nichols and Jeremy Boatman have been working with a group of 11 high school students leading up to the regional event.
“For our final push — it’s really about burning the midnight oil,” Nichols said.
Builders are tasked with assembling a robot that can go to work on a huge gameboard and perform specific tasks for points. This year’s assignment will have the robots lift and move plastic cubes and cones, which is why, with a large arm atop its chassis, MoCo Robo’s entry is considerably bigger than last year’s robot.
“We’re taking what we learned last year and really building on that,” Nichols said. “The biggest thing is just the cost and the mechanics. It’s a much more expensive and sophisticated robot. It’s got a chain drive. It’s got pneumatics. It’s got a pivot and turn.”
In addition to the machinery, the team is also rebuilding its roster after most of its members graduated last spring.
“We only have two or three kids who didn’t graduate last year, and now it’s mostly freshmen,” Nichols said. “It’s a pretty steep learning curve for them because it’s a big step from middle school.”
Even so, team members new and old have all been integral to the effort.
Freshman Makylee Ott was hard at work Monday night, March 20, in the robotics shop upgrading the robot’s tangle of wires.
“I’ve mostly been putting new male and female ports on the wires,” she said. “It’s difficult because there’s a lot of trial and error to learning how to do it.”
Sophomore Ray Merrick noted that while the wiring is more visible in this model, it’s about the same amount of wires as the one from last year.
“A lot of those last year were underneath and more compact,” he said. “We’ve had to find ways to add more motors, so there might be more wires from that.”
The energy within the shop these days feels much the same as last season, Merrick added.
“It’s a brand new robot, but we still have the old one. The panic’s all the same toward the end,” he said. “It’s fun to see it all come together, and it’s interesting to see what we have to make do with. We learned to use less plastic parts than last year, which we were forced to for necessity and ease.”
Last season provided some harrowing lessons, including during the team’s final match when a collision nearly ruined the robot.
“It actually ripped our motor in half, and fortunately we had a second one and were able to use duct tape to keep it functioning,” Merrick said.
Merrick said he works on both the mechanical aspect and on programming, though senior teammate Noe Del Toro has been doing much of the computer work.
“I’ve been doing code and doing online courses the last few years,” he said. “I’d definitely probably be lost in some parts of building the robot, but this is what I do. I write the codes for the functions of the robot like the arm. Sometimes it’s difficult to get it all done, but it’s going more smoothly.”
Boatman said the versatility of team members has been a big strength.
“All of these guys have touched pretty much every aspect of what we’ve built,” he said. “With all the activities and different things going on in these guys’ lives, we never have the same kids on any given night.”
Boatman noted that MoCo Robo was able to plan things out better this season for how to make the best machinery and also work with other teams in the contest.
“Last year we went into the Denver competition not really knowing that much, but this year we were able to analyze the game,” he said. “So now we know we have this type of drivetrain, and everybody else will be using a fancier one we can’t afford. How can we make ourselves more desirable to be in an alliance with. What do we bring to the table?”
The Craig crew is seeking to return to the world level event of the FIRST program, which takes place in April. The atmosphere at the regional event will help them get into the right mindset, Boatman said.
“STEM-minded kids need their own sporting event. It’s big, there’s music, there’s crowds and people cheering,” he said. “These guys are really working toward something big for them.”
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