The field house at UMASS Lowell is usually a place to see athletes compete, but on a recent Saturday (April 30) robots of various designs could be seen climbing ramps and over obstacles; picking up, pushing, and dumping objects; and swinging mechanical arms in the New England Regional Botball Tournament. This year, Haverhill Robotics competed in the day-long event against 18 other teams, surviving multiple matches to win a fourth place finish in the double-elimination rounds. For the second year in a row, Haverhill also won the Spirit of Botball trophy for helping other teams.
In BotBall, students engineer, build, and program two robots to address various challenges on a table-top course. During competition, the robots are “autonomous” – following instructions programmed into their software before the match begins. This year’s course and challenges were based on the popular movie, The Martian. Robots had to move dirt and water into an area to grow potatoes, retrieve an oxygen generator and radioisotope thermoelectric generator, and climb from the bottom of a crater to the rim to sweep dust off solar panels. All the objects to be manipulated were represented by foam cubes, balls, and pompoms. The New England Regional Tournament is sponsored by eleven sponsors including NASA, iRobot, and UMASS Lowell.
At the Botball kickoff in January, students and their coach go to UMASS Lowell to learn about the year’s challenges, have a lesson in programming, and get the design for the course. They build a practice course in the Robotics lab at HHS on an 8′ by 8′ white board surface out of pvc pipe and other materials, and populate it with objects that can be moved from place to place by a cleverly designed and programmed robot. At the competition, coaches are not allowed into the “pit” to assist their teams and the students must solve problems that develop themselves or with the help of other teams.
Haverhill Robotics has 28 members, coached by teacher Cliff Ashbrook. The team is in its 8th year as part of the Access 21 after-school program at Haverhill High School. Access 21 is supported by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Haverhill Robotics is also sponsored by the Haverhill Education Foundation. A feeder Robotics program at Consentino middle school, serves 12 students per trimester. Students from the high school program act as instructors for the middle school students under the supervision of a Consentino teacher. The high school team was invited to speak about their experiences at a state-wide conference of 21st Century grantees this winter. Donations to support Haverhill Robotics can be made to the Haverhill Education Foundation by clicking on the Donate button.