Southsider voice correspondent
For Center Grove senior Mariah Smith, team captain of the Red Alert robotics team, having a two-day extension on her spring break will not translate into a longer vacation. Instead, it will be mean waking up early Thursday in an effort to help lead the Trojans to their first championship at the Boilermaker Regional. It will end up costing her more work than the rest of her classmates.
“My teachers know that, so they are not like, ‘Oh they are going to be getting out of school,’ ” she said.
The team was formed about a decade ago with just a handful of students. This year, more than 60 students worked on building the robot under the guidance of club coach Mark Snodgrass, who teaches at the school. They are assisted by multiple mentors with experience ranging from programming to construction.
The format for competition changes each year, and the name of the game in 2014 is Aerial Assist. Teams will be arranged in alliances of three squads each and will try to shoot a ball 2 feet in diameter into a goal.
There are several methods to score, but the main way is shoot the ball into one of two goals. A low goal that’s just inches off the ground is worth one point; a goal that’s 10-feet high is worth 10 points.
Senior Nathan Cardwell is an engineering captain and sees teamwork within the alliance as the key to victory in Aerial Assist.
“Teamwork is really important this year because you have to get those assist points,” he said. “That’s where the game is made.”
Passing the ball to another robot on your team is a 10-point bonus. If all three teams on the alliance touch the ball, it is a 30-point bonus. Shooting the ball over a truss in the middle of a court is another 10-point bonus.
“Get the ball in; put it over the truss; get more assists, and then put into the goal,” Cardwell said. “That’s 41 points. If you get an alliance that can do that rather quickly, you’re going to win.”
To shoot the ball, the team created a catapult with a cam design for its robot. Here, an elongated flywheel spins and places pressure on the shooting arm by compressing attached springs. Once the springs release, the shooting arm does too with enough force to hurl the ball toward the 10-foot high goal. In recent practice session at Maple Grove Elementary, the catapult had enough power to shoot over the goal.
“We didn’t put much emphasis on catching because we thought that would be hard to coordinate,” Cardwell said. “But we did put a huge emphasis on getting the ball and being able to put it in the high goal quickly. Because we know we are going to be doing that every match.”
While the actual competition is important, the robotics program is a teaching tool for the students, who gain experience in a field they hope to study in college.
With so many students, the team has formed specialized groups, including a media unit that promotes the program through its website and social media. Cardwell is part of the engineering group and plans to major in computer engineering at IUPUI. Smith intends to major in material science engineering at Purdue.
“So one of the really cool things I got to see this season is we had an aluminum hex shaft that was not solid,” Smith said. “It was hollow in the middle and was used for one of our axles. There was so much force on it that it twisted. It looked like a Twizzler. So we had to switch it to a solid aluminum shaft. But that was so cool for me because I’m going into a field where I would analyze what kind of force would cause this.”