Team 190 FIRST

Team 190, in its 25th year, gears up for FIRST Robotics competition
February 29, 2016

• Let the games begin!

The FIRST Robotics Team 190 from the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science was fine-tuning its bot Feb. 22, the eve of its deadline for encapsulating it in plastic in preparation for a series of competitions, culminating in the FIRST World Championship robotics competition in St. Louis come April 27.

Team 190–observing its 25th anniversary—sponsored by WPI, won the national competition in 2007, but hasn’t been resting on its laurels.

The team’s bot is slated to compete March 12–13 at the WPI District Event in Harrington Auditorium on the WPI campus, as well as the Rhode Island District Event March 24–26 at the Providence Career and Technical Academy, and on April 8 at the MAR District—Montgomery Event in New Jersey. The team was working at a frenetic, late-night pace to meet the Feb. 23 deadline for literally wrapping up their robot.

“Tomorrow, at midnight we’ll put this in a bag, and then we can’t touch it,” said Will Fleming, a home-schooled high school junior and the team’s chief of tactics. Then, just prior to the competition, the team will have about six hours to unpack the bot and make last-minute changes.

WPI’s competition robots are custom made in the machine shop, but under a “waterjet” process in which water is used to cut metal, said WPI junior Logan Tutt, who explained the process along with fellow mentor Zack Boyer, a freshman at WPI. The waterjet, donated by Hydrocutter of Worcester, has been used on previous WPI robots. Tutt and other team members had been working at the lab until midnight the night before, in the lead-up to the competition deadline.

Contest rules dictate that a robot cannot be created for more than $4,000, and each individual part cannot cost more than $400. Team 190 estimates it took them six-and-a-half weeks to build their robot, at a cost of about $2,000.

Under the competition regulations, contestants must build robots able to traverse obstacles, score balls, and capture the opponent’s goal by the end of the match.

Like Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, Fleming outlined a three-pronged strategy in advance of the competition:

  • Damaging four of five of the opponent’s defenses
  • Increasing the intake and control of the balls’ release
  • Scoring in the “low” goal

The team, composed of mentors and home-schooled students, and those from the Mass Academy of Math and Science at WPI, is led by Brad Miller, associate director of the robotics research center; Ken Stafford, director of the robotics center; and Colleen Shaver, associate director of the center.

A total of 3,100 teams compete in the FIRST competition worldwide, comprising 40,000 students.

Hunkered down in the bowels of Higgins Laboratories on a recent day, the coterie of students and mentors gathered to troubleshoot the bot on the eve of its encapsulation. The team is a mix of veteran mentors and the high school students.

“Some have never built a bot, and they bring to it a new perspective,” said Rachel Putnam, mentor and chief of mechanical design, a double major in Robotics and Mechanical Engineering at WPI. “But tomorrow is the day that we have to be done.”

The WPI-Mass Academy team began working on its bot Jan. 9. The robust competition bots must traverse obstacles, score goals with balls and capture the opponent’s goal at the end of the match by surrounding it with their alliance partners.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a not-for-profit founded by former WPI student Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter.