Three years ago, County College of Morris got involved (through mutual students) with Mt. Olive High School USFIRST robotics team. Last year ('99) our efforts paid off with a credible third place out of over forty teams at the state finals.
This year the contest will again be held at Rutgers (in the old Gym) on March 17 and 18 (in honor of the date, Prof. McCabe wanted to paint the robot green but the team voted him down.....too much weight!). The contest is very "showy" with music, bright lights and even cheerleaders (OK, don't get too excited....for example, most of the Johnson & Johnson team cheerleaders at last year's contest were middle-aged men from their Engineering department!)All are welcome including Republicans, Democrats , vegetarians, etc.
Team members include students, teachers, parents, and representatives from local industry.
CCM's primary involvement includes Prof. Dom D'Stefan, Prof. N. McCabe, the entire Klages family, Joe Younkers (CCM Lab Coordinator), Matt Wood (a CCM Mech Tech alumn) Alex Blinder (a CCM Elec Tech alumn) and Paul Wood (a CCM alum presently working for Rame-Hart Inc.) along with various CCM technology students who worked "ad hoc" in the Engineering Lab.
Local industry support came from BASF/Mt.Olive and Rame-Hart Machine Inc/Boonton. A tremendous amount of support also came from two local engineers, Dave Mooney and Jason Iannuzzi (Dave's a Mt Olive High "parent" and Jason works with him).
This year's contest required us to build a robot that will go under a 30 inch bar, pick up a series of 14 inch beach balls and raise them six feet to drop them into scoring bin. At the end of the contest (2 minutes long) the robot needs to raise itself off the ground by grabbing onto the bars of the scoring bin (sort of like a pull-up). There are 4 robots in the contest ring at the same time and you are "teamed" with one of the other robots 30 seconds before the start. Each robot may run in two dozen elimination contests.
Robots are controlled by RF (radio-control) and use both a 12 volt motorcycle-type battery and an air cylinder to power the various components (our robot has 7 motors and an air powered ball gripper).
Contest rules change every year and are "revealed" 6 weeks before robots have to be shipped out to the local contest site(in our case, Rutgers).....this involves a "7 nights a week" mad-dash effort that results in way too many midnight visits to Dunkin Donuts..........but we got it done.......and shipped out in time (so that the robot can undergo a rigorous safety inspection before the actual contest)........we're swearing off Donuts forever (or at least, until next year).
After the state contest at Rutgers, the team plans to go to the National at Disney/Florida (the USFIRST contest is their biggest non-Disney event).
Understand, that although the USFIRST contest is intense and competitive, it is not "all about winning" (sign seen at last years contest......"I'd rather get last place here, than win at ANYTHING ELSE!"). Scoring, for instance, is intended to encourage (rather then discourage) teams.....the winning team in each contest receives 3 times the losers score......this means that if you are beating another team by 25 to 1, you will only get 3 points.....your best strategy is to score points for them! (thus raising YOUR score).
The contest philosophy (explained in detail by originator Dean Kamen on the "usfirst.org" web-site) holds that young people today have the wrong kind of "heroes"......overpaid sports stars,media-savvy musicians and actors that profit from encouraging violence.......USFIRST encourages kids to look at themselves and their team members as "heroes in the real world".....certainly a noble and refreshing viewpoint!
A note about the "USFIRST" name........it was originally chosen when Japan.Inc. was overtaking our economy with their technology.......now that the US has returned as the world leader in engineering and technology, the name seems a bit dated.........the contest is becoming more international and the "U.S." part of the name is slowly being dropped.......most teams now refer to the contest as "FIRST Robotics Contest"
Below are photos taken at Mt. Olive High and CCM......most were taken during Jan/Feb '00 (and most were taken in the late evening).....this is a fairly low-tech all-in-one web-page with no thumbnails......It'll take a minute or two to fully load.If you'd like to know how we did at the statewide contest on March 16,17 and 18(at Rutgers), click on the first link at the bottom of this page.
The results of our efforts (7 nights a week for 6 weeks) by a dedicated group of students,teachers, parents and representatives from Morris County industry.
"robot gang" at work
Prof. McCabe inspecting a robot arm part being built in CCM Engineering lab
student built electronics control system goes into place
Andy Klages writing control software for the robot
students, parents, teachers and reps from local industry get together at Mt. Olive for strategy session
first "test drive" (good guy parent/volunteer Ernie DiCicco works with two students just before first test of robot without arm).....a big moment (and sigh of relief....it worked!)
early test runs allowed drive software to be tweaked while arm was being developed
the world's most dedicated high school teacher, Bill McGowan (according to the rest of the team.....we also think he may be the craziest)
CCM student, Mike A., building robot arm parts in the CCM Engineering lab
team members cheerfully working under extreme duress
student team members working out details of a piece
an important part of the job.....the shipping container!