Busting gears in the west end: Westwood robotics team putting on finishing touches

Westwood High School sophomore Tucker Havel demonstrates the Westend Gearbusters’ robot. The theme for this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition is “Infinite Recharge.” (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — Tucked away in room 127 at Westwood High School, students have been working hard for an “Infinite Recharge” — as part of the FIRST Robotics Competition.

FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is a Manchester, New Hampshire-based nonprofit that designs programs to motivate young people to pursue education and careers in the STEM-related fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The game this year is “Infinite Recharge,” a Star Wars-themed challenge that involves robotics teams such as Westwood’s Westend Gearbusters.

The FIRST website provides this synopsis of the game: “Renewable sources of energy are everywhere, all the time. Working together in the 2020 season of FIRST Robotics Competition, Infinite Recharge, we can support boundless innovation and create a society that’s empowered, inspired and hopeful.”

For the Westend Gearbusters, it’s about making their robot do what they want toward this goal.

A sign made by the Westend Gearbusters is pictured. Members of the group have been busy making signs for the robotics team. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Coach Doug Elliott said the team has been working on the finishing touches in which balls are catapulted from the robot, taking about six or seven weeks to get to this point in the robot-making process.

The team in January received a kit, and parts such as wheels and motors then were added.

“We use air pressure,” Elliott said. “We can go up better than six feet.”

Of course, this takes components, and he spoke of one particular “contraption” that could earn the team points in competition.

“This allows us to slide back and forth under here until we balance with the other robot,” Elliott said. “So, you get extra points by balancing. You get points for hanging.”

This week, he said, the team put on the air compressor and added pneumatics.

Understandably, some tweaking was necessary.

“We’ve got our shooter taken care of,” Elliott said. “We had to get different belts. They didn’t work well. The first one would go on there misaligned.”

PVC pipe will keep the balls straight, he said, and assembly will involve “whatever we can come up with for a crazy idea and what’s laying around, and what we can pick up inexpensively.”

In the meantime, the team has to think even about the little things as they work on their robots, such as the direction the balls will be shot in their Westwood work space.

Tucker Havel, a Westwood sophomore, pointed out the balls have hit the ceiling a few times.

“We have to consider the sprinklers,” Elliott said.

Regardless of where the balls go, Havel is happy to be involved with the robotics team, learning about what he’s been told and what he needs to do.

“Why do I enjoy it? Just give me a purpose,” he said.

Elliott saw that enthusiasm.

“He’s excited about it,” Elliott said. “That’s what we’re trying to get — kids excited.”

And the robot’s just part of it, he said.

Some team members are working to boost team spirit, making signs that can be held in the stands during competition.

They’re definitely on the clever side.

One sign shows one of the trendiest characters in current culture, Baby Yoda, sipping a coffee and urging people to root for W3-GB. That name is a play on the Westend Gearbusters moniker, except the “e” in Westend is the number 3.

That makes sense; W3-GB sounds like a droid in the vein of R2-D2 of “Star Wars” fame.

Elliott credited local sponsors and the community with being part of the Westend Gearbusters’ efforts.

“Some of those people really help us out,” he said. “Super important.”

The Westwood robot is finished except for some adjustments, Elliott said. The programming, Java, needs a few lines of code added to make some things run more smoothly, plus the bumpers have to be finished.

The team has two upcoming competitions: March 5-7 in Kingsford and March 12-14 in Escanaba.

“I have to get our tools, spare parts, hardware, etc. collected for the road trip,” Elliott said. “Everyone’s paperwork is done. Hotel is booked. Meals are planned. Mentors know what is expected of them. Yep. We’ll make it happen.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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