Support our Student Robotics Team and Help Send Them to the FIRST Robotics World Championship

April 21, 2016

More than 3,000 teams comprised of 78,000+ students from around the world have been competing in a series of preliminary qualifiers in the annual FIRST Robotics Competition, all with their eye on the ultimate glory in this year’s FIRST STRONGHOLD competition. Among them are the students of our Washington, DC Fresh Start program, a group of young adult men who comprise team FRESH T.E.C.H. (Team 4242). Living Classrooms’ Fresh Start program is among the top non-traditional schools to field a team from the greater Chesapeake region at the competition’s national event next week in St. Louis.

Dubbed a varsity Sport for the Mind, FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. It is the only school sport where members could pursue a professional career should they choose to do so. Teams of ten or more high school students are assigned to build and program a robot to perform given tasks against a field of competitors. In doing so, they also raise funds, design a team brand and enhance teamwork skills. These implicit lessons are as close to a real-world environment as a student will experience.

Fresh Start participation at the FIRST robotics competition has left an impact on everyone, including the team’s talented mentors, its competitors, and more importantly, the students. Led by Department of Transportation mentors, students studied intensely on robot design & theories of function. This exercise required them to collaborate in a non-traditional school setting and adopt a real world simulation in the disciplined areas of engineering, art, social skill, professionalism and various fields of technology by applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge. All of these components complemented one another in order to design and build structures, functional machines, control devices, implement systems, materials and processes.

“Our main objective was to build a unique identity amongst the ranks of fifty-plus schools in our District,” said Travis Ellis, Director of Fresh Start. Ultimately, the team did just that. Beginning with the first qualifying event, the FIRST Chesapeake Northern Virginia District competition in March, the team was awarded the Judges’ Award and the first-round pick into the playoffs hunt, the team began to build strong momentum going into the next round of competition.

The next leg, the FIRST Greater DC District event, was held at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. The team placed seventh out of fifty-one teams. The team was also awarded the Quality Award. With this ranking, Team 4242 was chosen to advance to the FIRST District Championship at the University of Maryland College Park. There, the team won a “Showmanship Award” and finished seventh, ultimately earning enough ranking points to warrant an invitation to compete at the WORLD Robotics Championship held in St. Louis, Missouri.

As we approach the WORLD Championship next week, beginning on April 27th, Team 4242 is ranked amongst the highest performing teams from the District of Columbia in the following categories: scoring autonomously, human participation, scoring proficiency in high/low goals and defensive breaches.

“Ranking in the top 10 and participating as the only non-traditional high school to represent Washington, D.C. is considered a major hallmark and we have carried that pride with us like a banner in the battlefield,” said Mr. Ellis. “Our team ranked 19th out of 132 teams from the Greater Metropolitan Region heading into the WORLD Championship and if our past encounters are any indication, not even the sky is a limit for Fresh Start and Team 4242.”

UPDATE: Results from the World Championship in St. Louis placed Team FRESH T.E.C.H. at 54th of the 75 teams in its division, ranking 2nd in defensive points and 18th in autonomous points. Of the nearly 600 teams at the world championship, FRESH T.E.C.H. ranked 13th in defensive points and 64th in autonomous points.

Team 4242 successfully raised enough money, including almost $2,000 in individual donations to their Crowdrise page, to support their trip to St. Louis last month. The contributions and support from the community has been truly appreciated and we cannot thank anyone enough for their continued investment in our Fresh Start students.

Our main objective was figuring out a way to create a functioning machine that would complement our individual characteristics, with a unique identity capturing powerful, innovative, and aggressive behaviors. The objective of this year’s FIRST STRONGHOLD game was to leap over as many barriers and feasibly shoot as many low and high baskets possible in the allotted time. Team 4242 robot weighed in at 150 pounds of alumni & steel T slot, with several sim & gear box motors, an attached arm and purple Florence bright LED lights to showcase the electric circuit board and detailed interior organization.

There was a motor to control and operate the arms and wheels, along with the side car and jaguar motor. The robot was able to lift and release balls, lift up gates, as well as run in autonomous mode, which a pre-set program used to communicate with the robot without human participation. During the contest, competitors had the option to either play offense or defense. Offensively, the robot collected the balls and shot them into a lower basket. We were also tasked with avoiding the barriers. Our defense proved to be extremely effective in each of the three District competitions. The robot prevented other competitors from retrieving balls and shooting them in the goal. These tactics were especially useful and foreshadowed our success moving forward in future competitions.

The artistic design of the robot mirrored a tank model with a low center of gravity. The bully build consisted of six pneumatic wheels, which allowed the robot to absorb a tremendous amount of pressure. The wheels also provided durability as we maneuvered defensively throughout the course. The control station was programmed perfectly for our drivers, field players and alliance partners. The critical functions of our robot were designed to work within the grand scheme of the battlefield’s layout, which made us an ideal partner for several robots and a formidable adversary for opposing schools.

Engineers taught the students to code our controlling station using VEX IQ software allowing the driver to operate as first person using a dash camera. Another major function of our prize winning robot is an actuator arm, which was used to lift, pull and push various battlefield doors, bridges and barriers that were conceived to prohibit robots from crossing into the opponents’ playing zone.

I have to extend a huge thank you and congratulations to our mentors/shop instructors at Fresh Start for infusing education with metal and wood working and Electrical Engineering to create an atmosphere where success like this is possible. Fresh Start and Team 4242 is the ultimate example of “learning by doing.”