What was once deemed science fiction is now used in everyday life — including the classroom.
Students at Tri County Technology Center can build and work with these former fantasy characters, known as robots, in the institution’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics program. The program is not a part of TCTC curriculum but is funded by the TCTC Foundation and local sponsors.
FIRST robotics, an international robotics program, was founded by segway inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 in Manchester, N.H. Kamen’s vision for the program was to transform a culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated, as well as to encourage younger generations to become excited about science.
Team 2165 — TCTC’s robotics team — was created in 2007. Since its conception, a total of 79 students have participated in the program. Most of those students, though not all, are enrolled in TCTC’s pre-engineering program.
At a Bartlesville Monday Rotary Club meeting held Monday, Rotarian and robotics mentor George Halkiades presented several members of the team to the club and gave a brief overview of FIRST robotics.
“We build technologists, engineers and scientists, not robots. The robot is the vehicle that we use to hopefully get (students) excited about science and technology,” he said.
According to Halkiades, FIRST focuses on a term called “gracious professionalism.” He said this entails teams from other schools, cities and states working together to accomplish a goal.
“You’ve seen on TV the battle of the bots. Well that’s not what this program is,” he said. “The robots aren’t out there to destroy the other robots. We’re trying to win the game, yes, but we do it in a friendly, nice manner. Teams help each other.”
Project leader Kelly Shelts explained that the team keeps three “Rs” in mind when building their robot: reliable, repairable and “rememberable.”
“If we’re reliable, we don’t want our robot to break during competition, we want it to keep going. We want it to be repairable so if it does break, we can get it fixed in time to keep going,” she said. “The other thing is rememberable … if you’re rememberable, you can be chosen for winning alliances, even if you’re not quite as highly ranked as some other teams.”
Shelts said teams build their robots to complete a goal or play a game. The team received their challenge from FIRST in January. From then, they had six weeks to work on and complete their robot. She said the team must be completely finished by Feb. 18.
An aspect somewhat unique to this year’s competition is that teams must work together with teams from other schools to complete the challenge, Shelts said.
“In most other games, you can design a robot that will work by itself and still do very well. This year, you have versatility, and it’s really important because you have … to work with all the other robots on your alliance,” she said.
Each year, Halkiades said, teams operate on an approximately $10,000 budget. Of that, $5,000 is used for the purchase of a starter kit provided by FIRST, he said.
“What that five thousand dollars gives you is a kit of parts … and it gives you entry into one regional (competition)— one thousand dollars of that is to pay for regional. Then, you purchase other parts as needed,” said Halkiades.
Project leader assistant Joel French said the program is very strict on robot specifications.
“You have a perimeter of one hundred and twelve inches on this year’s robot. Nothing can be exceeding outside of the frame whenever it goes in for inspection,” he said. “You have to keep everything within that.”
Halkiades explained that each robot must weigh less than 120 pounds without a battery and bumpers. Teams also cannot spend more than an additional $3,500 on their robots.
Robots are inspected every year to make sure they meet competition qualifications, Halkiades said.
The FIRST program also puts a high emphasis on safety. One thing all students must use in competition?
“Safety goggles, safety glasses,” said French. “You always have to have those on in the pits at all times.”
In addition to safety, scholarships are a large element of the program. Halkiades said more than $15 million in scholarships are available to students who participate in the program.
Team 2165 has won multiple awards since its conception. The team won the Rookie All-Star Award in 2007, the Creativity Award in 2011 and two General Motors Industrial Design Awards in 2012 and 2013. The team has also competed in the regional finals and the international competition for multiple years.
For more information about TCTC’s FIRST robotics program or Team 2165, contact program instructor Brenda Irving at 918-331-3219.