by Colin Hickey
They meet at the Wrabacon Inc. facility on Old Waterville Road in Oakland five days a week, working at least three hours a session. But most put in many more hours at school and at home, and they are united in their goal: build the best Deep Space robot $5,500 can afford.
Welcome to the world of the Messalonskee Robotics Team.
The club, one of the more successful high school robotics teams in the state over the years, are few in number this year, but lofty in their ambitions.
“We’re definitely setting our sights high,” co-captain Caleb Sadler said. “I’m not sure we’ll make it because we lost a lot of seniors in the last few years.”
To “make it” in the competitive robotics realm means to qualify for the international finals of FIRST Robotics, the organization that coordinates the event each year.
The competition draws teams from across the United States and 27 other countries.
To get there the Messalonskee Robotics Team, which has 10 members this year, has to perform well enough at various regional competitions to earn a spot in the championship field and then raise the considerable funds necessary – club advisor Lisa Klein estimates about $60,000 – to afford the travel and lodging expenses of attending the championship meet in late April in Detroit, Mich.
But the high-intensity fundraising is on hold for now. The focus, instead, is on building a robot that can best meet the requirements of this year’s Deep Space challenge. FIRST released the details of those requirements on Jan. 5th.
Aiden McGlauflin, the Messalonskee team’s other co-captain, said most of the preliminary work involves exchanging ideas about how to design the robot, a process that can sometimes grow quite animated.
“It’s pretty heated – lots of discussions, lots of discourse,” McGlauflin said in describing some of the sessions.
Sadler said the team hopes to have the robot, which he expects to be about the size of a standard dishwasher, to be completed by about mid-February. That would leave about two weeks to test the machine before the competitions begin, he said.
While everybody on the team is involved with creating the robot, members tend to have their specialty areas. Sadler and McGlauflin, for example, both like the fabrication aspect – essentially the construction of the robot.
Fellow sophomore Owen Hargrove also enjoys building the robot, but he also likes the programming component.
It is not easy work. Some of the ideas that seem workable on paper prove to be impractical in real life. But that, Klein said, is part of the fun of the FIRST Robotics challenge. Klein said the freshmen who joined a year ago experienced this firsthand.
“By the end of the season last year, they had learned a lot,” she said. “I remember one of the freshmen told me, ‘I’ve never been beat up so much before (by a challenge) and enjoyed it so much.”