In just its fourth year of operation, the St. Mark’s Robotics Team #3566 “Gone Fishin’” looked strong in both New England Regional competitions over the last six weeks. Major events both in New Hampshire (at the end of February) and Connecticut (at the end of March) saw the St. Mark’s contingent make an impressive showing, earning the respect of their opponents and of the crowd against a very challenging field.
The St. Mark’s team was guided by faculty members Seth Battis, Ken Wells, Chris Roche, and Allyson Brown. Students included Sixth Formers Ryan Alipour and David Eacho; Fifth Formers Ryan Lee, Niles Stanton, Kevin Wu, and Julie Geng; Fourth Formers David Baek, Donald Liu, Joe Lyons, Jane Cho Watts, and Cynthia Yang; and Third Former Will Baum. They put together a robot as part of the 2014 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics program.
The FIRST Robotics Competition is an international high school robotics competition that gives students real-world engineering experience. This year’s challenge—“Aerial Assist”— is to build and operate a robot that can catch and pass a 2 foot diameter exercise ball and catapult the ball over high goals and through low goals to earn points.
At the Granite State District competition in Nashua, NH, St. Mark’s got off to a great start, scoring the maximum number of points with the robot running in autonomous mode and playing some great defense to win 70-0 in the 1st Round. They also won in Round 2, but the robot lost an arm in the process. The team got their machine back in working order to win the 3rd Round match 150-45, helped by a 100-point bonus and some impressive catapult work. Things got tougher as the afternoon progressed. After their powerful 3-0 start, they went 3-4, winning on points but losing on fouls. They finished the qualifying rounds at 6-4, in 8th place out of 40. “Getting to the elimination rounds under our own steam was a nice feeling,” said Mr. Battis. They then went up against the #1 seed, undbeaten at 10-0 on the first day of action. In a best 2-out-of-3 matchup, they beat St. Mark’s in the first game, but the Lions’ Gone Fishin’ team handed them their first loss of the tournament to tie it at 1-all. In what one observer described as “a mighty battle” St. Mark’s lost a close, exciting game 3, and were more than satisfied to know that the team that eliminated them then went on to win the whole thing, with Gone Fishin’ the only robot to register a victory against them.
In Hartford, CT on March 29, St. Mark’s Team 3566 Gone Fishin’ had another strong start, making it to the elimination round again and this time winning the quarterfinals, “with great teamwork,” according to Ms. Brown, to stand in 4th place going into the semi-finals. They lost in the semis to end their tournament hopes, but all were impressed with the performance of the St. Markers.
Reflecting on the season, Mr. Wells commented on how time and again the team members “put disappointment behind them and got to work.” There are, he pointed out , a number of things to do in the short time between rounds: “ make efficient mechanical repairs, tweak the autonomous code and switch the blue bumpers off/ red bumpers on, plus locate the students driving for the other teams who would be our alliance partners in the next match, to devise a strategy.” Mr. Wells was also impressed with the decisions made by the St. Mark’s drivers, such as when David Eacho ‘14 “chose to play what he called ‘hard defense’ – our robot would try to slam-dunk a ball in autonomous mode (collecting 20 points), then use its excellent speed to scurry back to defend against our opponent’s attempts to score. David and his crew often succeeded in shutting down the opponents’ aerial attack, thus limiting their scoring to only 2 or 3 points during the two-minute teleop period.”
Eacho himself has nothing but good things to say about his St. Mark’s robotic experience. “Being a part of our FIRST robotics team has been the most influential experience of my life,” he declares. “I’ve learned so much about what I want to do and what I’m capable of. Our team has shown huge improvements every year that I’ve been on it, and I can’t wait to see what it does without me next year. I’ll miss this sport like nothing else, and I’m proud to have been a part of team 3566, Gone Fishin’.” Eacho’s teammate, Julie Geng ’15, will be returning, and she states that “Being part of the robotics program is an enriching experience that not only allows me to participate in the heated competition but also enjoy the energy and dynamic within the team.”
“There will be people who tell you robotics is always fun,” says Cynthia Yang ’16. “There will be people who tell you robotics is easy; that it requires no effort. But the reality is, none of that is true. Robotics is hard; it is challenging; it does take a lot of time and effort. But thats what makes it so worthwhile. After all the work and effort is put in, you’re there on the bleachers or you’re standing there in the middle of the stadium, setting down your final robot, hearing the people cheer around you, and you realize that robotics is worth it. You learn so much, you experience so much, and you meet so many people who are so passionate about robotics, and it really makes you feel satisfied.”
Indeed, Robotics says many different things to so many people involved in the St. Mark’s program. “Robotics introduces you to a whole world of color,” says Yang’s classmate, Jane Cho Watts. “It gives color to dry STEM subjects and shows students how fun real engineering is. Just after a single season of Robotics, I fell in love with the color of Robotics.”