Hornet robotics team creating a buzz at EHS

In its first year, the Enumclaw High School robotics team qualified for the FIRST Robotics Washington State Championship event Jan. 16 at Sammamish High School.

FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a nonprofit organization formed by an inventor, entrepreneur and advocate who wanted to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

FIRST offers four different levels of participation; the Junior FIRST Lego League for kids from kindergarten through third grade; FIRST Lego League for kids in fourth to eighth grade; the FIRST tech challenge, a kit-based prototype level of robotics competition for thinkers ages 14 to 18 and FIRST Robotics Challenge, the highest level of competition for ages 14 to 18.

Troy Lindsey, Paul Crews, Connor Williams, Danielle Terrell, Sebastian Churchel, Devin Schamber, Sam Ridgewell, J.J. Craig, Juanita Torres, Allison Ewell, Mike Poderson, Maranda Butterfield, Lori Lamm and Gabriel Hansen make up the BuzzBots. Jim LovellFord, Kent Bastings and Corey Cassell serve as advisers. LovellFord and Bastings are teachers at EHS. Cassell is a Boeing engineer, parent and school board member.

The team has been working on the battery-operated, game-pad controlled robot for weeks. BuzzZinga must take batons out of a rack where they are stacked and then either push them into an opening in the floor of the arena, or pick them up and place them into cylinders riding on a moveable tray, all in a two-minute time period.

Points are awarded for successes.

Bastings said the robot has been developed in stages. First it rolled, then it pushed and now it’s grabbing.

“We’ve actually had the robot going, but we keep making changes,” LovellFord said.

“It took a lot of work to get it this far,” sophomore Ridgewell said, as days before the event the team was still working on a claw to pick up the batons. “But I have a good feeling about it.”

His intuition was on target.

It took participation in two qualifiers, days of competition, and some public relations skills to get the BuzzBots into the state championship.

After placing 12th out of 24 teams in their division at the first qualifying event Dec. 5 at Tahoma High School, the team was disappointed at not being selected by one of the top-ranking teams to be an alliance partner in the final round.

Cassell said the team did well for its first time out, but there is an element of networking the team overlooked.

The robot has to perform well, Cassell explained, but if you don’t make the cut, your best bet is to make sure your team is known to the teams that do make the cut so they’ll select you as an alliance partner for the final rounds.

“We walked away feeling a little puzzled,” Cassell said. “We watched as robots that did not perform as well as ours did, somehow were chosen to play in the final rounds of that competition.”

The concept shifts the emphasis of the program to camaraderie versus competition.

Team BuzzBot did walk away with the Motivate Award, presented to the team that demonstrates outstanding team spirit and enthusiasm.

The team was better prepared for competition Dec. 12 in Mill Creek.

Team members handed out water bottles with the BuzzBots’ logo and treat bags.

“By the end of the day,” Cassell noted, “the EHS BuzzBots team was known for their good will, as well as their tenacious competitiveness on the field of play.”

The day’s competition was highlighted by the bold move of Churchel. In the closing 30 seconds, Churchel pulled out some never-before-tested hooks to grab a rolling goal and drag it onto a balanced bridge, scoring 20 points and winning the match.

Teams are ranked based on wins and points scored. EHS was ranked as high as second in their division and finished the day sixth out of more than 20 teams.

This time, when alliances were being chosen, team captain Crews found himself in control when three of the top four ranked teams decided to join together to form the first alliance. Cassell explained when that happens, they continue down the list of rankings, which landed EHS in the position of choosing alliance partners.

The final rounds are a best two out of three contests. After two quick losses, EHS was watching the remainder of the final rounds. But the day wasn’t over, the BuzzBots were again presented with the Motivate Award.

After the awards were presented, three additional teams are offered the opportunity to go to state. The BuzzBots were one of them.

“We may not have been the highest ranked team, but we were definitely the loudest and most enthusiastic,” Cassell said.

The team will spend the next several weeks making adjustments to compete with the more advanced and experienced teams.

Bastings said the students are learning strategy, programming, basic electronics, teamwork, working together and problem solving.

“There’s a lot more to the competition than just building the robot,” LovellFord said. The team had to also construct the arena, develop a budget, track their finances, and the describe the process, design goals and finances.

It’s been a team effort that includes the school and greater Enumclaw community. The program got up and running thanks to donations from Helac, Hill Aerospace, Enumclaw High and a grant from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The team also received help from the EHS wood shop classes.

Advisers said the ultimate goal would be support for all levels of FIRST robotics programs.

“We would like to see the program become year-round,” LovellFord said. “With maybe enough kids to form two teams, and once established venture into the middle schools as well.”

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