MHS hosts robotics competition

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Mar. 3, 2011
Nate Baranowski and Joseph Kerr fine-tune their robot. Photos by Martha Marteney.
Nate Baranowski and Joseph Kerr fine-tune their robot. Photos by Martha Marteney.

The Manchester High School VEX Robotics Roundup Competition was held at MHS on Feb. 24, hosting 22 teams from middle and high schools throughout New England. Originally scheduled for Feb. 5, the competition was postponed due to inclement weather. The members of the MHS robotics team are Nate Baranowski, John Cody, Brian Graves, Alex Grimaldi, Michael Gosselin, Joseph Kerr and John Nielson.

This year’s competition was a “roundup,” which requires the robots to collect and stack color-coded donut-shaped “tori” on posts and to climb ladders. In the driver skill challenge, the team member directs the robot to perform the tasks. Points were awarded based on tasks accomplished, as well as the difficulty of those tasks, such as placing the tori on the posts positioned at varying heights. There is also an autonomous skill challenge, in which the robots perform the tasks as pre-programmed movements, rather than with the direction from the human driver.

Last year, the robotics teams were challenged to a “clean-sweep” competition, which required the robots to move balls from one side of a divided field to the other. MHS’ team competed in the world competition held in Dallas, Texas. “Last year, we tied for ninth out of the world,” said Joseph Kerr, a sophomore who is also on this year’s team. Both of last year’s team captains, Taylor Niever and David Keeley, are now studying robotics-related fields at college.

Between competitions, the teams work on the robots to make adjustments based on the robots’ performance, and what the team members see at the competitions. “I’m working on my gear ratio for the robot, so it goes faster,” explained Gosselin after school one afternoon.

Chris Prytko is an MHS technology teacher and the robotics team advisor. While students in the classroom learn about the mechanisms of robotics, the robotics team members focus more on building the robots and designing the specific functionalities for the competition. “It’s a long process,” Prytko said about the robotics team members designing the robots from scratch each year. “It takes time, just like a sport, and you need the discipline to follow through.”

Many of the MHS robotics team members joined after learning about robotics from friends. “I’ve learned a lot of things about mechanics and programming,” explained Baranowski, “and patience.” There are now seven team members working on three robots. In the course of designing and building the robots, team members become mechanics, robot drivers, computer programmers and strategists.

This year’s world competition will take place in Floridain April, with hundreds of teams from all over the world participating. Although the MHS robotics team has won a few excellence awards and judge’s awards for the performance of their robots, the team has not yet won a competition and received an invitation to compete at the world competition. Their next competition will be on April 3 at Central Connecticut State University. For more information, visit the website vexrobotics.com.

The MHS team raises funds to cover the costs of the robot parts, competition entry fees and transportation expenses. They will be hosting a Flapjack Breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. on March 26 at Applebee’s Restaurant on Deming Road in Manchester. Tickets cost $7 each, and can be purchased at the door or by contacting Chris Prytko at bllprytk@manchester.ct.gov.


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