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Falmouth robotics team headed to national competition

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Falmouth robotics team headed to national competition

FALMOUTH — A robotics team made up of high school students from Falmouth and Gorham will travel to St. Louis in a few weeks to compete in the national FIRST Robotics Annual Championship.

The Northern Force robotics team earned its spot on the national stage by placing second at a regional competition held in Manchester, N.H., and winning the Engineering Inspiration Award.

“Part of (winning the award) is that this year's senior class is the first class in Maine to be able to earn a STEM endorsement on their diploma by doing coursework, electives and a number of extended learning opportunities,” said John Kraljic, an engineering and technology teacher at Falmouth High School.

“If they do robotics team for four years, that counts as four extended learning opportunities," he said. "The judges (at regionals) were all excited about it and the kids were pretty excited about it.”

The team that competed at the regional competition includes 50 students and 15 advisers from Falmouth and Gorham. The team was able to construct two robots, one to use for practice, the other strictly for competition.

“We have our actual competition robot that we used at the regional competition, which we cannot touch after it was bagged at competition,” said Alden Herodes, a Falmouth senior. “It is sitting in a plastic bag in the shop.”

Between now and the St. Louis competition, which begins April 24, the team can continue research on the second robot, making necessary modifications. The team is allowed to bring 30 pounds of parts to St. Louis, to fix and modify the competition robot after they arrive.

“In regionals, we bent the screw for the angling of our shooter device and we are working on fixing our loading,” Herodes said.

The team is also working on programming and student control of the robot.

“We are having the drive team practice controlling the robot, moving it around, shooting Frisbees and having the human players throw Frisbees,” said senior Shreyas Joshi.

“In addition to giving some of the drivers practice, we are working on trying to refine the programming of our robot,” added senior Colin Luce. “We have a camera that is designed to assist our drive team to hit our targets a little bit easier, so we are working on refining that and having that work a little smoother for the competition.”

The goal of the competition is for participants to work in a three-team alliance to score the most points by putting Frisbees in five different goals along a field. After qualifying rounds, eight teams advance to the finals.

“To get into the finals you have to be in the top eight or selected by one of the teams to be on their alliance. It is a pretty stressful time if you are not (automatically in the top eight),” Herodes said.

While the team will go to the national competition no matter what, Kraljic said they would much rather hit their fundraising goal of $30,000 than ask the kids on the team to contribute the money.

To hit that goal students have signed corporate sponsors like Idexx and Fairchild Semiconductor, and are selling “FIRST Robotics' equivalent of Girl Scout Cookies” – LED lightbulbs – holding bottle drives and hosting a bowling night.

Donations to the team are also accepted and can be mailed to Gorham High School, Attn: Northern Force Team 172, 41 Morrill Ave., Gorham, ME 04038.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.