Brainstorming begins: RoboWarriors gear up for this year’s competitions

by Wendy Brown
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs Office


WIESBADEN, Germany – Frank Pendzich sent members of Wiesbaden High School’s RoboWarriors home with a seemingly simple directive.

“I want you to think about how you throw a Frisbee,” Pendzich told them at the conclusion of the Jan. 5 kickoff event for this year’s FIRST Robotics Compeition. “For a Frisbee to fly, it has to spin. Does it not?”

Minutes before, team members had watched a video and discovered the challenge for this year’s competition was a particularly difficult one. The robot they build over the next six weeks is supposed to throw a Frisbee into a box and climb a pyramid-like structure.

What is often easy for a high school student to master ― throwing a Frisbee with precision ― will be much more challenging for students designing and programming a robot.

“The problem this year seems really hard,” said Riley Pickering, 17, who has been a member of the team for four years.

Last year’s robot, however, still has a shooter on it from last year’s basketball-like game, and the team will work hard to make the necessary adjustments for Frisbee throwing, Pickering said.

Alexis Barclift, 15, who has been a member of the team for two years, agreed with Pickering, adding that the climbing part of this year’s challenge seems particularly problematic.

Otherwise, the challenge is in many ways similar to last year’s, Barclift said.

Approximately 2,548 teams throughout the world are expected to participate in the competition this year, according to the FIRST website. Inventor Dean Kamen, most widely known for creating the Segway personal transporter, founded the organization in 1989 as a way to promote science and technology in schools. FIRST is based in Manchester, N.H.

This is the sixth year Wiesbaden High School has sent a team to the competition, said Pendzich, who is also the school’s instructor of engineering and technology.

Usually the team only competes in one FIRST regional competition, but this year the team will compete in two, Pendzich said. The team will first compete in Orlando, Fla., and then will go to Las Vegas for a second competition.

The idea is to work out all the bugs during the first competition and then arrive at the second competition with a perfectly working robot and team members who have had plenty of practice with it, Pendzich said.

The team came in 16th out of 63 teams at the Orlando competition last year, and the hope is that having the opportunity to use one competition as a practice competition will propel the team to the next level of competition this year, Pendzich said.

All the teams at the Orlando competition that went onto the playoffs had used this strategy, Pendzich said.

The students will keep an intensive schedule during the next six weeks. The students will work on the robot after school on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until 5 p.m. and on Saturday or Sunday each week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Pendzich said.

“I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough time,” Pendzich warned the students’ parents, and he added it is likely the students will work until 7 p.m. during the last three weeks of the project.

Jamie Roddy, 16, said this is his first year as a member of the RoboWarriors, but he worked on robots in a similar club in Texas last year. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot and getting to know everyone on the team,” he said.