By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published April 12, 2023
How robotics clubs make mighty tech
Jim Scolman photo
Bearcats Robotics senior Luke Burrell (left), 18, explains the team's rig alongside freshman Jackson Rife, 14, and sophomore Allison "Big Al" Kim, 15, last month in the lab that is the team's skunkworks. Bearcats Robotics is a squad of 16 Monroe High students.
MONROE — The scrappy team buzzed over what they built.
Monroe High's Bearcat Robotics began in 2019, making them the relatively new kids on the block. But the team is growing. This year, there's 16 students. More established teams have three to five times more students brainstorming.
Jackson High's Jack in the Bot team and the Sonic Squirrels of Snohomish and Glacier Peak high schools are stout, top-flight competitors in the FIRST League of robotics, and have been for years. Both are heading to Worlds later this month in Houston.
But the Bearcats are coming up, finishing their season in 25th place of 120 teams after the April 8 Pacific Northwest regional championships in Auburn. (The top 22 go to Texas.)
Everyone's had a hand in making this year's challenger, Monroe coach Brad Beyer said. There are frame assemblers, computer-aided designers, robot drivers, coders and more here.
The team named it “InSight” after the Mars lander that studied the red planet.
They had at best two months to get it ready, and they’ve taken it apart to rebuild whole sections a few times. They spent a week strategizing on how the robot would operate first, said sophomore Sabria Dilley, 15, before they began drawing it up in computer-aided design using Onshape software.
InSight gets its instructions by radio waves and a WiFi connection. A player controls the apparatus using a repurposed XBox joystick. The robot’s underpinning software is lines and lines of Java programming code written by a wing of the team.
The competition challenges included balancing the robot on an uneven platform as well as grabbing a plastic cone and dropping it onto a peg.
Monroe built its robot with a pneumatic elevator to lift the arm and rollers to clench the cone. It can jolt its arm out in 0.7 seconds — almost furiously — when using maximum torque, pulling 16.5 pounds of exerted force when doing so. It stands six feet tall at full stretch.
Freshman Ahmed Raja-Mohamed, 14, is the team’s safety steward. He ensured the robot’s frame can withstand the maximum forces.
Sophomore Allison Kim, 15, built, and then rebuilt, the gearbox system.
They spent countless hours figuring how to make it go.
The work involved “changes your way in thinking about things,” Kim said, by analyzing what’s in front of you.
These are the next generation of engineers. Many on the team told a reporter they plan to pursue a branch of engineering for their career.
But Kim and others said being on the team is teaching them more than how to build a machine. How about collaboration and cooperation? Organizational leadership? Better communication? Yes.
The design principle for InSight was to keep it simple, junior Marcus Marie, 17, said. It’s to have as few potential failures or malfunctions as possible. It’s low to the ground until it needs to extend the arm because a tall robot is a tippy robot due to where the center of mass is.
A ballast in the back gives it a counterweight while the arm is protracted in the air, senior Luke Burrell, 18, said.
It has to maneuver well: there are opposing teams on the playing field who will position their robots to get in the way, said freshman driver Jackson Rife, 14.
Coach Beyer has high hopes for the robotics program.
He’s a former aerospace technician who was one of the first hires by the district’s director of College and Career Readiness, Shannon Tarrach.
Career and Technical Education was once commonly known as vocational training, but it’s a lot different now, said Tarrach, a Monroe High grad. The program has six prongs: Ag science; health science; technology; STEM; business and marketing leadership; and family and consumer sciences.
The school also has a rig for training students in aerospace manufacturing. Tarrach said this led some to be directly hired by Boeing.
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