Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 6:30 am | Fog/Mist 51º


Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Robot-Building Season Kicks Off with a Recycle Rush

Christmas is over, but Santa brought one more present to 37 Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy seniors: the details of the robot-building contest that will consume much of their lives in the coming months. Dos Pueblos students, teachers and volunteer mentors joined hundreds of FIRST Robotics teams around the world for the online video debut of the 2015 competition, which is called “Recycle Rush!” (Scroll down to watch the video.)

This will be the 11th year that DPEA has sent a robot to the competition, but lead robotics teacher Sam Ridgeway noted that this was the academy’s biggest team to date.

“I also think it’s one of the most ambitious teams we’ve ever had,” he said. “All of them chose to be here. Everyone here wants to win more than ever. I have very, very high hopes for this year and this team.”

This year’s team is the first in DPEA history to have a choice of senior-year capstone project; the 37 members of what is now FIRST Team 1717 chose robotics as that project. They’ll continue a winning legacy; Team 1717 has captured numerous regional championships and reached the world championships several times in recent years.

To play Recycle Rush, Team 1717 will design, build and operate a robot that will work with other teams’ robots to stack plastic recycling bins, while also cleaning up “litter” (in the form of foam pool noodles) from the playing field. Points are scored for higher stacks and the most “litter” cleaned up.

“This game is unlike anything I or the community have ever seen,” Ridgeway said after the team finished watching the introductory video. “That’s a little intimidating at this point, since we can’t draw too much from past experience. But it’s also exciting. We can’t recycle the old designs; we have to come up with something new.”

That sentiment was echoed by many DPEA seniors, including Spencer Mullanix, who said, “I’m excited for this year’s challenge. It’s really different and unique from some games that have been done in the past.”

Throughout their robot-building season, Team 1717 will receive help from mentors — professionals, alumni and community members who donate their time, energy and expertise.

Explaining how the FIRST Robotics Challenge relates to real life, engineer and mentor Tom Anhalt said, “You have to figure out the problem, come up with a solution and test it out; that’s what we do (in industry) every day. And the teamwork aspect is part of it, too. You have to take into account all the functions and make sure that everyone is on board with what you’re doing.”

In the video introducing the game, FIRST founder and famed entrepreneur Dean Kamen echoed that sentiment, noting that “FIRST teams are microcosms of real life. I see FIRST teams working together better than a lot of the business and government teams I see.”

And in his short talk, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that the FIRST students of today might in the future be the people designing robots like the one that is on Mars right now.

In addition to the professional mentors, numerous DPEA alumni were at the event to provide support.

“I am embarrassed at how vicariously excited I get about robotics,” said Caroline Whelan, a 2012 Dos Pueblos High School graduate and now a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “Going through this robotics process was a great confidence booster for me going into Cal Poly. And I found that leading a team gave me experience at managing other people and sticking to goals and time frames.

“It proved that I can do anything. Any all-nighter I have now is not that bad, because I’ve gone through this.”

What’s next for the students? Six weeks of hard work, then regional competitions beginning in late March.

To get started, at the beginning of this school year, the seniors on Team 1717 were divided into sub-teams. Each team is responsible for one aspect of the robot, including shooting, collecting, systems, programming and pneumatics, among others.

“Today, we’re just going through the process of reviewing the game and the rules,” team member Isabella Franco said. “My group is building the collector, so we’ll be figuring out how to pick up and stack the boxes.”

Looking forward to the weeks of work in front of them, the seniors expressed excitement ... and a few nerves.

“I expect that building the robot will be exciting at first, then a lot of really tiring hard work, and end up being really exciting,” said senior David Gil Bueno, who will work on the electrical pneumatics team for the robot.

Let the games — and the robot building — begin!

(FRCTeamsGlobal video)

Click here for more information about the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy and its four-year curriculum combining physics, engineering technology, computer programming and art. Click here to make an online donation.

— Jim Buckley is a communications mentor for the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. Nicholas Mata is a DPEA student on the communications team.

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