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Game changers

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After winning an award for leadership and volunteerism, an Ashland High School Robotics Team is headed to the World Championship next week.

The four-day FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston begins April 17 and will feature robotics teams from more than 70 countries, including Ashland’s Team 3024.

At the high school level, students in the program are given a “game” the first Saturday of the year. They have six weeks to build a robot that can complete the game. At the end of the six weeks, the robot is sealed in a bag until the competitions begin.

This year the game requires the robot to move balls and plates into certain areas of the field to score points. At the end of the game, the robot must also climb atop a 20-inch platform.

The game changes every year, said Alexandra Roscher, ASH faculty mentor.

The robot must be programmed to perform certain tasks and also must be able to be controlled remotely.

This year’s robot is very complicated, covered in sensors and is very maneuverable, said mentor “coach” Paul Moen.

Each match lasts 2.5 minutes and requires multiple teams at random to form alliances and work together to score more points than the opposing alliance, said Ron Constable, who spent 45 years as a military aerospace engineer before he retired, and now serves as mentor to the team.

“It’s very competitive, and yet it’s very cooperative all at the same time,” Constable said.

A large aspect of the FIRST Robotics program is that it educates students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, bringing in community members such as entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors to act as mentors, Moen said.

“They’re imparting wisdom that they’ve learned from a lifetime of work,” Moen said. “You learn an immense amount of engineering, science, math, etc.”

But the students do everything themselves.

At the high school level, teams receive a kit of parts to work with, but they can also use and custom make other parts. Often the mentors are a great networking source to get access to technical machinery to make the parts.

“The teams that seem to have the best robots have access to professional building materials, cutting out designs from aluminum,” Moen said. “We’re working on building relationships with companies that could help us with that.”

He said one team that competes every year has access to the NASA space shop.

They’ve won a lot, Moen said.

He also said a lot of community mentors who come in and work with the kids have taught the students how to use machines at the high school that were used rarely before the robotics team, such as a mill and a lathe.

The high school has started implementing manufacturing classes at the workshop the team uses, and Moen said he thinks the team’s push for AHS to provide more engineering opportunities for students influenced that.

Another requirement of the program is that the students must promote the STEM field within the local community. One way the AHS team did that was by implementing FIRST Lego Leagues within various Ashland and Medford elementary schools.

The Lego Leagues use kits sent to them from FIRST. The kids build the robots using only those parts and program them to perform certain tasks on a tabletop. The high school team mentors and teaches the kids how to do it the first year of the program.

That is one of the reasons Team 3024 received the Chairman’s Award for the Pacific Northwest region and qualified to go to the international competition, said Roscher.

The program often introduces students to the STEM field. Many students in the program end up pursuing STEM-related careers and bring those skills and knowledge back to the area after completing their education, Roscher said.

One of the lead members, AHS senior Sierra Repp, has been on the team all four years of high school. But she never planned to join; it just happened, she said.

She recently received a FIRST Robotics engineering scholarship that covers nearly half of her tuition to study engineering at the University of Portland.

“I’ve learned so much in the last four years, and I’ve changed so much,” Repp said. “This definitely impacted my life and the path I’m taking.”

The AHS team went to the World Championship in 2017 as well, a spectacular feat qualifying twice in such a short amount of time, Roscher said.

Repp said there were 254 teams from around the world in 2017.

“I just remember spending four hours talking to a girl from Israel and comparing our schools, robotics teams and our entire lives,” Repp said. “Just because we had the common ground of being on a robotics team, we were able to connect. It’s really amazing being able to connect with people from around the world because of robotics.”

To watch the competition, see thebluealliance.com, click on Events, then Houston, and then Live Stream.

The team is raising money for its trip. It needs at least $7,500 to send 10 team members, Moen said.

To make a donation, email Roscher at Alexandra.Roscher@ashland.k12.or.us or send a check to the high school, attention: Robotics Team, 201 S. Mountain Ave., Ashland 97520.

For more information, see the team’s website at team3024.com or its Facebook page at facebook.com/AshlandHighSchoolRobotics.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

The Ashland High School robotics team puts final touches on its robot before bagging it this year. The team goes to the World Competition April 17. Photo by Ron Constable
The Ashland High School Robotics Team readies their robot to compete in Tacoma, Washington, earlier this year. The team qualified for the World Competition which begins April 17. Photo by Ron Constable.