Watertown robotics team has the tools

Sophmore Dylan Flaherty controls a robot as junior Jeffrey Conde looks on at Watertown High School on Feb. 17. Wicked Local Staff photo/Erin Prawoko

By Laura Paine / Staff Writer Wicked Local Watertown Posted Mar 08, 2011 @ 12:01 PM WATERTOWN — With a new room and a set of new power tools, the Watertown High School robotics team is ready to run their regional competition through the wringer. The four-year KwarQs robotics team has been working hard to complete their ring-slinging robot for the Boston Regional FIRST—For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology—Robotics Competition in April at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Team advisor Alan Epstein told the Watertown TAB & Press that they got more than he expected to receive for the team and students are able to work with the new table, miter and ban saws as well as a drill press and grinding wheel behind a sound-proof curtain in the back of the classroom. “We’ve got basically everything we need except a lathe and a milling machine, but those are kind of high-end,” Epstein said. “This is about twice as large as the last room. The disadvantage is that at the old place we had access to a machine shop and a gymnasium so we could run around, test out the robot and we had plenty of room to eat and everything else.” But he isn’t complaining—the team is happy to “spill out into the hall” to test their robots, like last year’s soccer ball kicking ‘bot that won the Boston Beantown Blitz at Northeastern University and made the quarter finals at the Boston Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. Sophomore Dylan Palmer said that the team isn’t focused primarily on winning like high school sports teams are. “It’s the idea of the meeting of the minds, the place where people go not only to compete,” Palmer told the Watertown TAB & Press. “It’s secondary to having fun and showing off your work. There’s not a lot of places these days in this culture that you can feel free to express yourself without being ridiculed for something or another.” This year the team is charged with building a robot that can pick up inner tubes that are shaped like the pieces of the FIRST logo, in honor of the organization’s 20th anniversary, and arrange them on three levels of pegs. “We wanted something sturdy and something that went all the way to the second peg post so we can get as much points as we can,” sophomore Arda Cam said of the design of the robot’s arm. “We had another project called vex [that] had the grabbing effect.” The team is also working on a minibot that will race up a pole against three other minibots to compete for an extra 30 points. Rose Fristrom, a senior, worked with Cam and other students on the arm of the robot and she said it has been a fun and unique learning experience. “I know how to use a drill press,” Fristrom told the Watertown TAB & Press. “How many girls know how to use a drill press? I used to be afraid of power tools and I’m not anymore. I joined because it’s a guy thing and I’ve always done that. I felt like I could do something unique and I learn stuff. It’s fun.” Maeve McCluskey, a junior, said she got involved because of all the fun Fristrom was having. She works on programming the robot to make it move but writing, testing and re-writing code. “It’s a lot of fun because I really like engineering, robotics and all that fun sciencey stuff,” McCluskey said. “It’s a really good community. When you go to competition, even if you don’t know anyone there, it feels really connected and it’s a lot of fun and you’re all cheering each other on.” Epstein said it is also a good way for students to get real world experience and have the chance to tackle learning in a more hands-on way than is usually found in the classroom. Students have the opportunity to step outside the box and try out marketing, publicity and public speaking.

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“Students sit all day in a math, science and technology classroom and it’s sometimes project based, it’s book learning, it’s lectures—it’s interesting, but this is real world stuff,” Epstein told the Watertown TAB & Press. “This is being on a design team. This is what students will do in the real world when they’re working for an engineering firm or a company that’s designing or building things. We do more than simply build robots.” Copyright 2011 Watertown TAB. Some rights reserved

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