For Falmouth students, it's time to kick some 'bots
FALMOUTH — While some students may be lying on beaches soaking up the rays during their winter vacation week, or losing sensation in their thumbs playing video games, a group of more than 50 high school students from Falmouth, Gorham and surrounding communities has been hunkered down in the bowels of Lanco Assembly Systems in Westbrook building a robotic soccer star.
These students, with help from teachers and community mentors, are preparing for this year’s regional For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition to be held March 11-13 in Worcester, Mass.
Falmouth High School teacher John Kraljic and Gorham parent Nancy Porter lead the team, with assistance from other adult mentors.
Each year’s FIRST competition offers students a different challenge. This year, the Northern Force team must design, construct and program a robot, nicknamed FalGor, to travel across a specially created playing field and “kick” soccer balls into a goal.
The field will be fraught with bumps and tunnels, making the challenge much more difficult and the team’s prep work much more intense. Team members have designed scaled mock-ups of some of the course obstacles to test the robot’s moves and ensure it can tackle the humps without tipping over or getting lodged on top, Falmouth sophomore Conor McGrory said.
McGrory spent several hours most days last summer learning more about programming so he could participate on the team this year.
Though the team forms in the fall, it does not receive competition details until early January, when the six-week construction period begins.
According to the FIRST Web site, teams must raise between $15,000 and $30,000 to fund the endeavor. Most of that money comes from corporate sponsors.
Lanco and IDEXX Laboratories are the lead sponsors of Northern Force and Lanco provides work space and equipment for the students to manufacture and assemble the robot.
They work with tight specifications. This year’s robot must weigh no more than 120 pounds, not including the battery and bumper. Its maximum dimensions are limited to 28 inches by 38 inches by 60 inches and it must be powered by a 12-volt battery. The “soccer field” will be 27 feet by 54 feet.
The FIRST Robotics competition was conceived by inventor Dean Kamen, famous for his Segway Human Transporter, as a way to inspire students to learn more about science and technology.
Northern Force is the three-time winner of the Chrysler Team Spirit Award.