MHS hosts VEX Robotics Competition, home team qualifies for states

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Tue., Jan. 8, 2013
Brothers A.J. and Ken Lippo test their team's robot, The Terminator, between matches at the VEX Robotics Competition Tournament held Saturday, Jan. 5, at MHS. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Brothers A.J. and Ken Lippo test their team's robot, The Terminator, between matches at the VEX Robotics Competition Tournament held Saturday, Jan. 5, at MHS. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

Constructing a robot requires highly sophisticated engineering and programming skills, as well as the patience and determination to bring a product from planning to completion. But at Manchester High School, students are doing just that. The Manchester High robotics team, Geared Up 822, brought three robots to compete in a VEX Robotics Competition Tournament held Saturday, Jan. 5. The event was hosted at Manchester High School and organized by technology education teacher Christopher Prytko.

“We have 40 teams,” said Prytko. “It's the largest competition we've had here.” The tournament was a regional event that attracted teams from throughout New England. Many high schools sent multiple teams, and MHS's Geared Up team was broken down into three: A, B and C.

VEX Robotics facilitates education in technology and engineering while organizing international competitions. Students build their own robots to compete against each other at these competitions. Matches are held within “fields,” a closed-off area where competing robots interact with equipment to perform the tasks of the game. Games change each year, and this year's game is “Sack Attack,” where robots are challenged to lift bean bags off the ground and place them into an elevated container.

For Prytko, part of the challenge of hosting a VEX competition was converting the gymnasium into a venue where multiple matches take place at once. Prytko was able to contribute one field, made possible by a donation from the Foundation for Manchester Public Schools. Central Connecticut State University brought two fields, and South Windsor High School brought one as well.

“The kids are totally involved in it,” said Prytko. “The kids build the robot, they work on the robot, they fix the robot. I stay hands off. I'll guide them on what to do - sometimes they listen to me, sometimes they don't.”

At MHS, robotics is both a class and a club. Members of Geared Up have the opportunity to work on their robot during class. They are also free to work after school every day. Since the game changes each year, the team builds a new, purpose-designed robot each year. Many man-hours go into building a robot, and many more still go into tweaking and repairing it.

“We've been working on this one since November 27th,” said A.J. Lippo, a junior at MHS and a member of 822A. The robot must meet strict requirements before it is allowed to compete in a VEX match. It must be able to fit within an 18-inch x 18-inch x 18-inch box, and have the latest VEX Master Code and updated software. The robots are built to be remotely controlled by human operators and perform their tasks autonomously.

Team 822A's robot, whom they christened “The Terminator – T-103,” uses a unique swerve drive train. “We think it's the only one in the world for a VEX robot,” said A.J.

A.J.'s brother, sophomore Ken Lippo, explains that this kind of base was used by the MHS team years ago. The team stopped using it when they switched to Mecanum wheels, which allow the robot to go forward, backward, side to side and diagonally. However, this year, the team felt the older system was more appropriate for the requirements of “Sack Attack.”

With the swerve drive train, all of the wheels are attached by a single chain. If one is turned, they all turn at the same time. The advantage to this is that they can turn in any direction at full power. “There are some wheels where if you try to go sideways, they're working against each other. With this, if you rotate the wheels, they're all going straight,” said Ken. Having the robot turn in any direction at full power is useful if it is carrying a lot of weight – for example, a payload of bean bags that have to be moved quickly.

Geared Up 822A is qualified to go to the 2013 state tournament, held at CCSU on Feb. 17. At their home tournament on Jan. 5, they re-qualified for states and also made it into semi-finals. The team also won an invite to go to the 2013 world championship when they competed at Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn., last month.

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