It's Not Just About the Robot
Waukesha high school students design and build a robot for the FIRST Robotics competitions
When a group of students gather to build their robot with their eyes set on a possible national competition, it is “never just about the robot," said Abhishek Mehrotra, a 17-year-old senior from Waukesha West High School.
"It’s a lot more – outreach, community service, teamwork – the other aspects are just as important," Mehrotra said. "We really try to bring in the community. ... What’s special is joining a community that is so diverse.”
And CORE 2062 is diverse. The team is made up of high school students from South, West and some home schoolers and, 15-year-old Emma Krauska said, 38 percent of the team are girls.
Connor Zwick, 17, a senior at the Waukesha Engineering Preparatory Academy said that’s one of the things he loves about Robotics.
“It really opens my eyes to different walks of life," Zwick said.
A robot, by definition, is a mechanical device that is able to perform various complex tasks. The CORE 2062 team, are faced with the challenge of building one 120-pound robot and a mini bot in six weeks in order to compete in the FIRST Robotics competitions.
FIRST’s website describes the competition as “a competitive sport, a life experience, opportunity, community” and “amazing.” The website states that the high school Rrobotics competition is “the varsity sport for the mind." Robotics is a program for high school students to experience “real-world” engineering while working one-on-one with professional mentors.
Krauska, a sophomore at Wisconsin Engineering Preparatory Academy at Waukesha South High School, said FIRST is a “celebration and ‘coopertition’ ... teams compete against and interact with other teams to complete a task."
This year’s task is that the robots built by participating teams must place inner tubes on 18 pegs in rows of three to create the FIRST logo, and the mini bot must touch a sensor in order to gain extra points.
But robots are only a small part of the attraction, excitement and complexities behind the FIRST Robotics competitions.
CORE 2062 is comprised of high school students who have two things in common – the desire to work hard and the desire have a lot of fun – all while building a 120-pound robot in addition to volunteering and involving younger kids in the FIRST Lego League (for elementary students) and VEX league (for middle schoolers).
Each robotics team must build and design a robot in the six-week building period that performs a prescribed task and meets certain requirements.
In addition to building and designing a robot, the students are occupied with a multitude of other tasks like animation, volunteering, mentoring, marketing, budgeting, time management and community outreach.
The team is guided by parents, teachers and industry engineers.
“I’ve been involved in lots of competitions and extracurricular activities," said Mark Spoerk, an engineering teacher and mentor. "In all my experiences there is no activity that comes close to FIRST experience ... giving kids the ability to apply what they learn in the classroom and giving kids the skills they don’t learn in the classroom.
“We do so many community activities – image team, public relations team, a website that is developed and maintained by students, animations and CAD design.”
The students agree.
“The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of robotics is not the technical but the professional skills," Zwick said. "It really is a life-changing activity.”
Krauska said she is taking away a lot of “technical experience, a lot of leadership things we do as a team, [and] volunteerism is a huge part of our team.”
“It’s really the passion for learning," Krauska said. "We’re all really into our mode, and we all really get into really interesting technical challenges and odd obstacles that we have to overcome as a team."
The robotics team is a year-round extra-curricular activity for the students involved in CORE 2062 and are a few weeks into the six-week build season. Their goal for the season is to reach the international competition in St. Louis.
Though they expect great things from their team this year, Mehrotra knows it is more than reaching the international competition.
“It’s always the journey that matters, never the end result,” Mehrotra said.