Geared Up robotics team sets sights on world championship

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Feb. 28, 2013
(L-r) Joe Kerr and Ken Lippo discuss some adjustments to their robot. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
(L-r) Joe Kerr and Ken Lippo discuss some adjustments to their robot. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

The members of Geared Up 822, Manchester High School's VEX Robotics Team, talk about “big steam.” It's something you have – or do not have – like charisma or chutzpah. Sports teams might call it heart or guts. Big steam is what propels the team members to spend hours upon hours perfecting their robot after school, or gives a driver the push he needs to perform under pressure during VEX competitions.

So far, the team has gotten a lot of mileage out of big steam. They have had consistently great performances at this season's competitions. During the state quarterfinals and semifinals, which MHS hosted Sunday, Feb. 17, Geared Up was ranked fifth throughout the day, but their ranking plummeted in the final competition when Geared Up's partner team's robot broke down. Still, they have been qualified to complete in the 2013 world championships since a tournament held December 2012 at Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn.

According to technology education teacher Christopher Prytko, the adviser to Geared Up, many of the students involved in the program go on to pursue engineering in college. While many of the students are like-minded in their interests, a good team still needs a wide variety of skill sets. “We have to be specialized,” said Prytko. “You have to have kids with the logical skills for programming, you need to have the kids who like to build, and you have to have kids who are good under pressure driving.”

Geared Up can attribute its success to having that variety of specialization. Being adaptable is also key, as the VEX “game” in which the robots compete changes every year, and teams must build a new robot each season to fit the needs of the challenge. This year, robots face off to see which can lift the most beanbags off the floor and into an elevated container. The team has tweaked the robot throughout the season, adapting it based on each performance. The builders have recently been working on four different wheel systems, and testing the different types requires a lot of group participation. “Everybody has to be working on it to test four different styles of wheels to see which works best,” said Prytko.

As the builders tackle such technical challenges, Prytko is facing a challenge of his own: raising the funds to help get the team to the 2013 world championship, which will be held in Anaheim, Calif., April 17 to 20. With tickets in the $600 range, he has his work cut out for him.As host to several regional tournaments, Geared Up was able to raise some money selling food at the events. The team also raised $1,000 at a Flapjack Fundraiser Breakfast at Applebee's on Saturday, Feb. 23.

As a nonprofit, Geared Up was able to partner with Viridian, a clean energy power provider, which helps support the team. Anyone in Connecticut who is serviced by CL&P or UI can request to have their energy come from a different provider, including Viridian. When private entities generate their own renewable energy, they can sell their surplus power to Viridian. Some sources that Viridian purchases from include the Saybrook Point Inn in Old Saybrook, which has solar panels, and Yale University, which has fuel cells. Viridian then powers its customers with this renewable energy. Viridian gives a donation to Geared Up for every customer the team signs up for Viridian.

Once they get to the championship, Prytko is confident Geared Up's “big steam” mentality will carry the team. He has a lot of faith in the robot the team built, which he says is reliable, meets the demands of the game, and is adept at both blocking and scoring. “It's a strong robot,” said Prytko.

For more information about Geared Up's partnership with Viridian, or to help sponsor the team, contact Prytko at b11prytk@manchesterct.gov.


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