Cass rallies ’round RoboRanger

Published 9:18 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Junior Molly Moroz, flanked by Stuart Ayers, left, and Dalton Burdett, right, is the only female member of the engineering and building team, serving as project manager.

“It’s been amazing to watch what a group of teenagers can do. Most adults look at teen-agers as not caring about much or doing much that’s worth recognizing.”
— senior builder Dylan Sears

An afternoon after school with Cass County’s first robotics team is like hanging out backstage at “The Big Bang Theory” when they start talking about friction coefficients to shoot a basketball at a certain velocity.
Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School joined thousands of other teams across the nation as a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team.
FIRST stands For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
It is an organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to develop ways to inspire study of engineering and technology.
The volunteer, no-credit program supports a national surge in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — while promoting “gracious professionalism” and “cooperitition.”
Builder Anthony Pompey, a junior, said, “I joined to be a part of the first team of this sort in the county.”
Several students traveled to Benton Harbor Jan. 7 to participate in the global kick-off of the 2012 season.
While there, the team learned that its robot would have to shoot foam basketballs while avoiding barriers and opponents.
The team received two tubs of parts. Robo Ranger took over the workshop. Ideas flew as they planned a multitude of possibilities with six weeks allocated for building and programming a competitive robot from the kit provided.
The team is not comprised entirely of gearheads and mathletes, although that might not be evident from talking to builder Dylan Sears, a senior, and head programmer Thomas Bosler, a sophomore.
They are trying to explain how their gadgetry works with wireless routers transmitting signals to the robot’s hard drive, processing code into output signals and relaying it to motors for rollers, arms and wheels so it knows whether to scoop up a loose ball or fire a shot — a pneumatic sound not unlike world-class pit spitter Rick ”Pellet Gun” Krause propelling a cherry.
While documents gave some clue, “There was a lot of learning on our own,” Bosler said, guided by professional knowledge of mentor Fritz Kucklick of Hess Engineering.
“It’s been amazing to watch what a group of teenagers can do,” Sears said. “Most adults look at teenagers as not caring about much or doing much that’s worth recognizing. Most teens don’t get a chance to build a robot,” let alone have fellow students ogle it as they carried it to a pep assembly Friday. “It’s such a great feeling to see people’s reactions and know you built that.”
Starting out, Sears didn’t know what he didn’t know.
“I fix computers with our IT guy, so I looked at the kit and figured I’d know what to do, no big deal,” Sears said. “I didn’t know anything. I wanted to be all over the programming, but Tom jumped on it all on his own and did it himself. It’s really cool. We were here until 9:30 Thursday finishing this thing up. The arm doesn’t go up and down like we want, but we’ll figure it out.”
Their target date to be done was Valentine’s Day, leaving a week of tweaking and “de-bugging” before “Bag Day.”
The team competes at Gull Lake March 2-3, then in Niles March 23-24.
Project Manager Molly Moroz, a junior, is “double-billed,” straddling the engineering/building side and the business/marketing side.
“I set the schedule, make sure people are on track, make sure people stick to the dates by which certain things have to be done. On the other side, I’m really involved with marketing. I’m on the presentation team” which goes to businesses, such as $5,000 from first sponsor K&M Machine-Fabricating Inc.
They meet Feb. 23 with the Shrine Club in Union to receive tools.
Besides T-shirts, buttons must be designed, a website created, a logo envisioned and a mascot costumed.
Serious about sustaining the team, right out of the box an “historian,” junior Laura Signore, was appointed.
“I became a part of this team because I have had these hidden graphic arts skills for quite some time. All I needed was an outlet.
“Being a member of this team has helped me begin to reach my higher career goals in photography and graphic arts.”
“She’s been taking pictures throughout the process and documenting dates as we progress through the season,” Moroz said. “Mr. Chapman and Mrs. Herwick are probably two of my favorite teachers. Science and math fascinate me. I’m the only girl involved in building, as they’re quick to point out.”
According to Julie Herwick, language arts teacher and team mentor, the time had to be right. “I have always believed in the capability of our students at Cassopolis to be competitive at this level. We have a great head coach in Mr. Chapman and the right combination of kids. It’s selfish on my part. I like to keep good teachers and we have kids who need this kind of stuff.”
Cassopolis considered robotics after touring Rochester New Tech High School.
Paul Chapman has been “amazed at the willingness the team has to learn and succeed. Many of these students have given up their Saturdays and evenings after school to contribute to the building and designing of the robot. I know from teaching pre-calculus and calculus, these students are the brightest and best in the school and able to learn anything they set their minds to, but I’m blown away at how quickly they’re doing it.
“We had the chassis drivable from scratch in a couple of weeks.”
Engaged? Chapman has the unusual problem of having to make them leave at night.
“I don’t sleep much anymore” since entering into this “fast-paced” alternate universe. “I don’t have to twist their arms. They twist mine so they can work on weekends.”
The team is actively seeking sponsors.
If interested, call Herwick at the high school at (269) 445-0540.