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  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Mechanical Mayhem team members and mentors, from left, David Gray, Jim Weber and Noel Poore look over the core of their team's robot before going into the practice arena during Week Zero, an opportunity for First Robotics teams to try out this years course and work through kinks in their robot's functionality at Nashua High School South.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Bishop Guertin's team members, from left, Grace Flanagan, Alex Lisowski and Luke Yost wait for their robot to be set up on the competition field at Nashua High School South, Saturday morning, during Week Zero, an opportunity for First Robotics teams to try out this years course and work through kinks in their robot's functionality.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Mechanical Madness team member, Sarah Bell pulls the cart on which their robot is resting, Saturday morning during Week Zero, an opportunity for First Robotics teams to try out this years course and work through kinks in their robot's functionality at Nashua High School South.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Teddy Coffman holds three inflateable rings used to score points in this year's First Robotics competition, Saturday morning, in the pit area.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Founder of the First Robotics league, Dean Kamen, right, talks with US Senator Kelly Ayotte, left, in the gymnasium of Nashua High School South before the start of Week Zero, Saturday morning.
  • File Photo by Grant Morris


    In this 2012 photo, Mike Poon works on the drive belts of Merrimack's robot in preparation for that years's FIRST Robotics competition.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Members of Mechanical Madness of Milford watch as their robot's mechanical arm tries to place an inflated ring over studs on the wall during a practice run during Week Zero, an opportunity for First Robotics teams to try out this years course and work through kinks in their robot's functionality at Nashua High School South.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Mechanical Madness team members watch at their robot tries to stick an inflated ring onto a peg during Saturday morning's Week Zero meet up at Nashua High School South.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris


    Mechanical Mayhem teammates, Amelia Jennings, left, and Elizabeth Poore talk about strategy before entering the competition field during a Week Zero meet-up at Nashua High School South, Saturday morning.
Monday, February 21, 2011

FIRST teams prep at South for main event

NASHUA – It may have only been a practice run, but that didn’t mean students at last weekend’s FIRST Robotics Week Zero event weren’t taking it seriously.

On the floor of the Nashua High School South gymnasium Saturday morning, students maneuvered their robots, trying to get them to grip large, inflatable rings and place them on pegs of sorts. In the stands, the rest of the teams and their supporters cheered as the seconds ticked away. The buzzer sounded, marking the end of the scrimmage.

Judging by the electricity in the building, one would never know this was only preparation for the main event: the regional FIRST Robotics competition in Manchester on March 2-4 at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Malcolm Paradise, a teacher at South and a coach for the North/South combined team Touch Techs, said more than 25 teams from across New England were in attendance at the event. This is the first time Nashua has hosted a regional scrimmage, he said.

“This is practice on an actual field,” he said. “That’s the draw for them.”

Teams from as far as Maine and Connecticut made the trip to Nashua to try out to their robots for the first time. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), established in 1989, pits high school teams against one another. Each year, teams are given a different challenge that test their design and engineering skills, as well as how well they can work together under a tight deadline.

This year’s challenge, dubbed Logo Motion, requires teams to come up with ways to get their robot to get inflatable triangles, circles and squares to hang on pegs placed several feet up on a wall. The higher the teams hang their game pieces on their scoring grid, the most points they get.

This year’s challenge also includes the creation of “minibots,” which can be used to race to the top of the pole to trigger a sensor to earn more points.

The challenge was unveiled in early January, at an event with FIRST creator Dean Kamen and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. Since then, teams have been working on developing their robots. Teams are given the same materials to work with and have until Tuesday to finish them. Saturday’s event was a chance for teams to debug and work out the kinks before this week’s deadline.

Paradise said one team earlier in the day got its robot onto the floor, only to find it wasn’t working. However, unlike in the actual competition, they were able to make a design change and got it up and running, he said.

“They’re beta testing on the field,” he said.

In the other gym at the school, teams were gathered at their pit stations, making changes and tweaks to their robots before heading out for their scrimmage. The pace was fast at the station for Mechanical Mayhem, a team based out of Milford and made up primarily of home school students.

“We’ve been working on getting our claw to work,” said 16-year-old Amelia Jennings of Merrimack.

Each member of the team has a specific job to do to help design and build the robot, Jennings said.

Roger Hebert, of Merrimack, has been a parent mentor with the Bishop Guertin High School team for five years. His son was a member of the team and now his daughter is, as well.

The program attracts students with a strong passion for engineering and science, as well as those looking to see if it’s something that may interest them. Either way, Hebert said students come away with skills that will serve them well in their respective career paths.

“They learn a lot of about interpersonal dynamics,” Hebert said. “If everyone is bickering at each other, you’re not going to get much done.”

Kamen was in attendance Saturday and was chatting with students and parents. Kamen has pushed for a national funding initiative to help support FIRST programs in public schools.

This year, there are 2,075 FIRST robotics teams across the country, involving 51,875 high school students.

With the growth of the FIRST program, Paradise said it might be worth exploring having more regional competitions with smaller groups of teams, as opposed to all teams from the area competing in Manchester.

Not all FIRST students are necessarily looking to pursue a career in science or engineering. Meera Nair, a North sophomore and member of Mechanical Mayhem, said she isn’t necessarily looking to go into those fields, but knows that the skills she is getting from being a part of the team will pay off.

“Regardless of the engineering aspect, I’m learning things here that are going to help in the long run,” she said.

Gov. John Lynch and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte also attended the event.

In addition to the scrimmage Saturday, there was a robot unveiling Friday night in the South auditorium.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.