Vernonia Loggerbots Get Ready to Rumble

Loggerbots-webThe Vernonia High School Loggerbots are getting ready to compete in the 2014 FIRST Robotics competition.

As they prepare for a new challenge this year, the Loggerbots are planning to host an Open House on Saturday, February 15 from 1:00 to 3:00 PM in the Vernonia School, Room 143 to preview their robot for their supporters and the rest of the community.  Anyone interested in learning more about the FIRST Robotics competitions, the VHS Loggerbots team, or about becoming a sponsor, is invited to attend.

Last year, in just their second year of competing, the Loggerbots surprised almost everyone when they finished third in a field of fifty-nine teams at the Regional competition at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

According to their webpage, FIRST Robotics Competition “…combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.  It’s as close to “real-world engineering” as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

Loggerbots2-webEach year student teams are tasked with a new “competition” or game in early January and are given six weeks to design their robot to perform the required tasks.  This year the game is called “Aerial Assist” which is played by two competing alliances of three student controlled robots each on a flat 25’ x 54’ foot field, straddled by a lighting truss suspended just over five feet above the floor. The objective is to score as many goals as possible, using a large exercise ball, during a 2 minute and 30 second match. The more alliances score their ball in their goals, and the more they work together to do it, the more points their alliance receives.

The format of the overall competition has changed slightly this year, as the Loggerbots will be required to travel to Oregon City and Corvallis for District competitions and then to Portland for Regionals, if they qualify.  The region now includes over 200 schools competing for a chance to go to Portland for the Regional Competition.

Each competing team receives a basic kit that includes the frame for the robot and some additional parts as well as credits that can be used to “purchase” parts from other vendors.  Teams can also manufacture additional parts themselves to help their robot complete the intended tasks.

The Loggerbots continue to receive a lot of help from their volunteer mentors-community members who coach the team and help them figure out design strategies.   All the mentors from last year’s success have returned and the team has even recruited several new mentors this year, including school liaison Eric Urban.

The Loggerbot squad is made up of fourteen students, including a couple of Middle School students again this year,  and meets weeknights and Saturdays to work on their project.

According to Jeff Ely, a parent/mentor, the team is way ahead in the electronics and computer programing aspects of their project, using their past knowledge to speed up that work this year.  Ely says the team is still working out the design of how to launch and direct the ball towards their intended targets.

Ely says the team has  been able to scavenge parts from their past two robots, which has allowed the team to “buy” a 3D printer with some of their credits.  The 3D printer has been really fun and interesting for the students to work with and learn about.  “It’s all part of learning technology and science, which is what this program is all about,” says Ely.

Ely says fundraising and sponsorship has been very important this year.  In past years the team has been required to raise $5,000 just to compete, plus additional funds for parts.  This year the team needs $5,000 to go to the District competitions and another $3,000 to go to the Regional competition, plus parts and other ancillary expenses.

Aubrey Leach is a seventh grader, who has recruited her parents and a grandparent to help mentor the team.  Leach has been learning to solder and has been working on the electrical components of the project.  Leach says she  approached the company where her father works, Aamcon, who agreed to sponsor the team with a $2,000 donation. If the team qualifies for the Regional competition, Leach says Aamcon has pledged another $2,000, and has told the team to come back for more funding if they advance to Nationals.

Ely says the team has also been pretty active this past year, marching in the Christmas Lighted Parade and demonstrating their robots on several other occasions.