One of only two FTC teams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Gunston’s Robotics Team placed in the top third, winning 4 out of 5 matches.
This year’s Robotics Team, dubbed the “Honey Nut Gearios,” have worked many, many weekends since September on their robot, nicknamed Tonybot. In fact, Dr. Ken Wilson, the team’s faculty advisor and Chair of the Science Department, has been so impressed with their work ethic and commitment, he kept count. “We’ve met in various configurations at least 11 times outside of school hours. (That’s 21 pizzas!) I have designed the program for maximum student flexibility to allow students to participate while not negatively impacting academics, sports, other extracurricular activities, and the long driving distances our students travel to get to Gunston,” he explained.
Dr. Wilson's fall robotics class formed the core of the team and all of the students in the class were new to robotics. Additional students from the Science and Engineering club, several of whom were First Tech Challenge (FTC) veterans, contributed during the weekend meetings, and others came to work on the robot during homework periods, lunch, and any free time they could find. Led by team captain Samantha LeCrone ’22, the team includes hardware leader Andrew Steele ’22 with hardware team members Ashton Seaman ’22, Robert Crow ’22, Noah Friel ’22, and Alex Bent ’25. Ju Lee ’22 leads the software team with Damian Rene ’23, Grace Evans ’23 is in charge of branding, public relations, maintaining the engineering portfolio and serves as the team’s factotum, and Ava Duvall ’22 is responsible for 3D printing of specialty parts.
Their hard work paid off this past weekend at the FIRST Tech Challenge in the Alexandria, Va., Qualifier, in which 34 teams competed in four cohorts of approximately nine teams each. Team 9530 (Honey Nut Gearios) and their alliance partners won four out of five matches and ended up ranked in the top third, 11th out of 34 teams. The number of students who were permitted to attend the competition by FIRST Tech Chesapeake dropped from six to five and then dwindled to four in the days leading up to the match, as daily COVID infection rates continued to rise. No physical audience was present; however, team members and family could follow the match via a live stream from home. “The students found it stressful and exhilarating all at the same time,” said Dr. Wilson.
Gunston’s team first met (remotely) with judges to present their design process and answer questions about their robot. Rene, the team’s software and driving team arm operator, said “Everything went very well! We joined 10 minutes early with no technical issues and all of the questions were answered completely and with gracious professionalism. Seriously though, it was a success!”
“I was proud to see the team cooperating under pressure with grace and a sense of humor without losing their competitive edge. All of the students on the robotics team are a pleasure to work with and I feel very fortunate to be able to mentor this program, one of only two FTC teams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” said Dr. Wilson. He goes on to say “I was especially impressed with their level of dedication to a very time-intensive project, especially since most of the team were without any prior experience. There was a time period when we couldn’t quite get the claw working correctly and had reached a bit of a stalemate. Grace Evans insisted we were looking at it the wrong way, found a dustpan, brought it back and showed us a much better way, which ended up working out perfectly.”
“I was surprised by the amount of competitiveness [and] the incredible innovation that goes along with it,” said Evans, who signed up for the robotics class thinking it would be a “fun, chill elective.” She goes on to say that working with her peers to build, and program the Tonybot was “such a surreal and cool experience that I just had to stay,” even after the semester ended. She admits it was challenging working with fellow novices, especially when trying to troubleshoot design flaws (such as the robot being unable to go over the boundaries or use its claw correctly) but loves that she was able to bond and connect with people from different interests and backgrounds. “I now also know how to use a socket wrench, allen key, handsaw and how to splice wires!” she adds.
Indeed, the opportunity to work with one’s hands and build something tangible was a major draw for Andrew Steele, the team’s hardware leader. “The biggest challenge was making sure we were all on the same page to keep things running smoothly,” he explained. “The most fun part was definitely putting this idea together and then having it work the way it was intended — definitely a great feeling.”
Another strong theme amongst the team is how much they enjoyed the challenges and the collaboration with peers. “Every time we ran into an issue, it seemed like it had no fix, but by not giving up we were able to get through everything,” said Team Captain Samantha LeCrone. “Getting through these challenges was also the most fun part about this experience for me.”
Ju Lee, software leader, agreed. “Working as a team to troubleshoot problems seems to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the project. Fixing a problem within the code, and then seeing the robot's movement work the way it was intended is the most satisfying moment because it feels like my hard work pays off. Robotics has helped me in other areas, not just academically, although the real-life application of physics and math has helped in physics and math too. I’ve gained patience through confronting countless major and minor coding problems and it taught me communication skills because you have to strategize for FTC game matches.”
Rene, also on the software team with Lee, added “Our team gets to make all of the decisions in regards to the design and execution of our robot. Building and designing the robot has given me the experience of working with others in a sometimes high pressure situation as well as expanding my coding knowledge and abilities.”
FIRST Chesapeake is an independent non-profit that brings STEM-based leadership programs to middle and high school students in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Robotics is the means to teach technical concepts and practical know-how, as well as to build leadership skills and develop teamwork. Community and industry professionals work side by side with students to develop a competition robot in answer to a complex engineering challenge that looks and plays like a sporting event.
The team plans to use the time between now and the next competition, in Laurel, Md., on February 5 to review video from the competition and make tweaks to the hardware and software.
- FTC Challenge
- Honey Nut Gearios