Just last year, the Robo-lions and Gear Freaks were literally a garage operation. Now the student-age robotics teams are working from a new space in Finksburg as they embark on the build season for the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) challenges.
The new space is called the Carroll County Center of Robotics and Engineering (CC-CORE).
According to Senior Leader for the Robo-lions Rose Young, having a publicly accessible location will help the group expand their community outreach and also allow them to seek more adult mentors. Currently they do 20 to 30 events in the community per year.
“We’re looking to get people involved and say: ‘Hey, you can do this. It’s not as scary as you think,’ ” she said.
The decision was something that had been in discussion for a while.
“It’s a bit of a risk to say ‘Now we’re going to pay rent,’ ” she said. But taking the plunge has also had the effect of encouraging some people to more concretely support the groups.
The most recent build season for the Robo-lions began Jan. 6 when nonprofit For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) revealed the challenge for their annual FIRST Robotics Competition.
This year the theme is “Power Up,” based on retro video games, where the teams will compete to move blocks around a playing field and balance them with precision. The Tech Challenge is a “relic retrieval” where the robots compete in an alliance format with six in the space at once.
The Robo-lions team members, from many county schools grades eight through 12, have a week-by-week plan for constructing not only one robot for the Robotics Competition, but a second prototype robot that they can continue working on after the first robot is done and finalized.
“We’re working on a grabber claw for the blocks then also a lift to move that claw up and down,” said Build Captain Nathan Daly, a student at Rock Ridge Academy.
The challenge has a strict, six-week deadline. The competition is open to teams internationally and will culminate with a world championship in April in St. Louis.
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But building the robots isn’t the only part of the competition. The biggest prize is awarded to the team who can best talk about the group’s impact in their community.
“For such a small team like ours, each student does around 91 hours of outreach events per year,” said Shannon Eissele, the teams PR captain and a student at Liberty High School said.
These range from collaborating with local Boy Scouts of America’s Carroll District to help members earn badges to partnering with the Westminster Boy’s and Girl’s Club to bring robotics programs to the children there.
Team members are split between the build team, programming team and PR team, though most do a little bit of everything Eissele said.
“I’ve tried out multiple parts of it, and I’ve just been experimenting,” said Brian Blowers, a student at Sykesville Middle School, who joined the group a few moths ago and works mainly on the PR team.
In March, the team will bring their competition robot to regional bouts in Alexandria and South River.
Last year, the Robo-lions finished 34th out of 158 teams in the regional competition that included groups from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., competing to build a robot that could climb a rope.