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Robolancers EmPOWER Girls in STEM

Members of the Robolancers inspect their robot. PC: Ernesto Estremera

The Robolancers competed in GirlPOWER on Saturday, September 16, an off-season competition hosted by FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) Team 443, at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. GirlPOWER is an annual competition run by girls and for girls to recognize women in STEM and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Fifteen teams competed in GirlPOWER. Because the competition is so early in the off-season, many robotics teams use it as an opportunity to train new team members for the upcoming season by practicing fixing, driving, and presenting robots, in addition to learning how to work under pressure. Each team’s robot had three main objectives: to place gears onto pegs, shoot a ball into a goal, and climb a rope. Central’s robot successfully performed all three of these objectives.

As Jennifer Guevara (277), FRC Team Captain explains, “The robot uses a piston-manipulated ‘pocket,’ which intakes the gear pieces from the game field (gears are 10 inches in diameter), to place gears onto pegs, which were then lifted up into a field structure. To shoot the balls 9 feet up, the robot has an empty ‘tank’ that can hold 50 balls at a time, with a conveyor system underneath the tank. The conveyor belt system guides the balls into the robot’s shooting mechanism: dual flywheel shooters. This allows the robot to shoot two balls simultaneously. Last but not least, the robot is able to climb a rope using pneumatics.”

The robotics team also took some innovative measures in the electrical and programming aspects of the robot. The electronic components were placed under the robot, rather than above, leaving more space for other mechanisms. One of these mechanisms included a new vision processor that allowed the robot to sense reflective tape placed on the pegs on which it was required to place gears. The robot would then automatically approach the peg and place the gear on top of it.

Although the Robolancers did not win the competition, they did make it to the semifinals. One of their foremost objectives for the competition was to prepare new members for the upcoming competition season, and GirlPOWER did just that. Furthermore, the competition was a great opportunity to acknowledge the talent and determination of girls in STEM. Robotics serves as a crucial gateway for many female students at Central and other schools to develop an interest and experience in STEM fields.

“I personally began freshman year, with absolutely no background in STEM projects,” reminisces Jennifer Guevara (277). “When I first laid eyes on Central’s robot at orientation, I immediately knew: ‘I want to be able to create that.’ After three years on the team, I’ve become one of its dedicated mechanical members, as well as the FRC Team Captain for two years. I am no longer afraid to share my ideas on design or build of the robot (or the team), and jump at the opportunity to spread STEM throughout the Philadelphia community along with my team.”

Besides a passion for STEM, a strong sense of camaraderie and and a love of competition motivate the Robolancers as they prepare for the 2018 competition season, which kicks off on January 6, the pivotal date when the game and rules are released. The Robolancers then have six weeks to build a robot based on the criteria. With the seniors of 277 at the helm, the robotics team is optimistic and excited about this year’s prospects.

“Everyone on the team is excited for the season. We enjoy the competitive atmosphere as well as the bonds we create,” says Robolancers president Viwing Zheng (277). “We stay until 6 PM in school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In addition, we come to school on Saturdays to build. It’s a time investment and it gets really stressful with the piled-up school work, but no one complains because we really love the thrill of competing and putting our best onto the field.”

With hard work and dedication comes spectacular robotics creations. The Robolancers certainly have a great season ahead of them as their supporters and competitors alike wait anxiously to see what arresting engineering feats this robotics dream team has in store.

Miriam Solowey (277)

PC: Ernesto Estremera

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