Techno Birds look to states

By: 
JENNA GILBERT
Staff Writer

Learning a new skill can be a challenge. Learning to build a robot and code it to be autonomous and manually operated is difficult. Having to do it from scratch every year takes the challenge to an entirely new level.
That being said, 14 students at New Bremen High School have taken on the task, and their third year is proving to be their best one. The Techno Birds is a club that is part of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team that designs, builds, programs and operates robots on a competition level with other high school teams.
The robots they program have to complete predesigned tasks to earnt he group points. Tasks include moving blocks, detaching and reattaching from the landing space and retrieving objects from blocked areas. With this years theme, “Rover Ruckus” everything all tasks relate to space exploration.
While winning is always a goal in a competition setting, FTC doesn’t just look at how well one groups robot performs, it also looks at how well the teams collaborate and share ideas.
“That’s one of the things that’s really neat about FIRST is like any other sports event, it’s very competitive,” Coach Jason Lozier said. “I went to my daughter’s basketball game last night … at the end of the game your mad because you didn’t do well or whatever, whereas with this every team is willing to share all of their information. ‘Oh you guys are looking to do this? Here’s how you do it.’ It’s just a very collaborative environment for all of these students.”
The team’s outreach is an area judges at competitions are looking at. This could include offering another team a spare part at a competition if they need it, but it also includes how the teams reach out to their communities and garner support and interest.
“It’s almost as important to do outreach as it is to create the robot itself,” said Madison Lozier, a member of the team. “They want you to go into your community and into your elementary school and talk about why you do this and what you can learn from it.”
She talked about how she and two other members of the group spent time this summer at Camp Inventions in Minster as camp counselors. As it was a STEM camp, they brought their robot to demonstrate what they learned to do with Techno Birds. They also plan to hold a competition with the elementary school students that will allow them to have a piece in the design process of the robot as well.
“The side panels there, the metal sides, our next step with those is to hold a coloring contest at the elementary school for a space theme and then were going to design it into a sticker and print it that way they have a part of it and they are a part of our robot,” Madison said. “We talked to the judges about that this weekend and they really liked that and thought it was a good way to get them involved in it.”
At their most recent competition, on Dec. 15, the team took home several awards for their hard work, as well as getting cleared to move on to the state competition. Competing against 28 other schools from Ohio, the group placed third for the Connect Award, third for the Inspire Award, first for Innovation and were a finalists in the Alliance competition.
“What they really liked on ours … the wheels fold up into the robot and then they come down underneath,” said Emma Keller, one of the designers for the team about the innovation award. “So that’s kind of a design that nobody else had so it was kind of creative and they really liked that part of our robot.”
Designing the robot take a lot of innovation, creativity and trial and error from the students. While FIRST provides a robot kit for them to get started on, there is a lot they have to design and create on their own. One such item is a marker they place in the arena during the challenge. Paying homage to their schools mascot, the group 3D printed the Cardinal logo. They’ve 3D printed a few parts, Madison added.
“They like to see more creativity,” she explained. “They don’t want you to go to a hardware store and say, ‘oh this will work,’ and come right off the shelf and screw it onto your robot. They want you to think about it and problem solve and kind of go through the engineering design process and see different ways. I think we printed our hook a few different times because it didn’t work the first time.”
Starting over is also something the team isn’t afraid to do either, member Ryan Bertke mentioned. He said how earlier this season, end of October to be exact, they decided to scrap their first design of the robot and start over. Within a few weeks they had a completely new design.
“Like a month ago we decided to completely start over,” he said. “So we had to put a lot of time in but we wanted something that had more space on the inside so we could make our wires look more cleaner and have more room for the motors and stuff like that.
“We decided to make our wheels go up inside our robot and release out. It gives us that nice even look and it gives us the ability to do the things we need to. And now we’re trying to attach and arm that will allow us to grab the balls out of the crater.”
“There’s probably a lot of different things that we tried and failed at so we had to change it and figure out how to make it better and work,” Keller added about their process of trial and error.
Designing and coding are not the only areas to work on the team, they said. At competitions, judges go around asking questions to the members and look over their portfolios to see their process of getting to where they are at that time.
“I don’t do anything with the robot honestly,” Madison said. “I do all the business, all that side. So you can be a T-shirt designer, a website designer, social media. There’s more than just what you see so that’s what we explained. That’s outreach which is really a big part in it.”
With outreach, they have to make contact with companies in the area to ask them to sponsor the group so they can afford their supplies.
The group said that last March they started their outreach to companies and asked more than 60 if they would be interested. While they only heard back from around 11 companies agreeing to be a sponsor, they said the low number wasn’t a loss.
The Techno Birds have had the opportunity to tour some of the local businesses and see where a career in STEM could lead them.
The next competition is Jan. 25 and 26 in Van Wert and States on Feb. 22 and 23 in Loveland.

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