‘Chieftainators’ prepare for first robotics contest

Published 9:14 am Thursday, January 23, 2014

Team Director Jennings Brosnan, along with Jesse Specht and Anthony Potter, tests out a trebuchet, to help them determine what design to use for the robot’s launching system. Submitted photo

Team Director Jennings Brosnan, along with Jesse Specht and Anthony Potter, tests out a trebuchet, to help them determine what design to use for the robot’s launching system. Submitted photo

Dowagiac Union High School teachers are used to seeing all sorts of daily commotion in the hallways, be it students rushing to beat the bell or custodians cleaning up the newest mess left on the floor.

However, even the most senior educators were shocked after they spotted a four-wheeled robot roaming the building’s halls after school.

Despite their formation only a few months ago, the Dowagiac High School Robotics Team have been hard at work the last several weeks drafting, designing and building their first mechanical creation. The team, nicknamed the “Chieftainators,” plan to enter their robot in the FIRST Robotics regional competition in March, held in St. Joseph.

Schools from around the region will field teams for the competition. Two teams of three robots each will compete against one another, in a game to score the most goals as possible within a two-and-a-half minute time period. The robots can score a goal by tossing balls into baskets that are suspended six feet in the air.

“It’s like athletics for the brain,” said Jennings Brosnan, the team’s coach. “There’s an athletic aspect to the game, but you have to do it with a robot.”

Brosnan, who also teaches physics at the high school, was the main force behind the formation of the team. The science teacher was inspired to start the team after meeting with the coach of the Cassopolis robotics team during a recent teaching conference in Saginaw.

“He told me about that grants are amenable to rookie teams, more so now than in previous years,” Brosnan said.

The school received $16,000 in grants to help with the formation of the team last winter, though Brosnan said he was meeting with students even before then to register the new team with FIRST Robotics. So far, 16 students have signed up for the team that meets six times a week.

“We’re seeing folks from across the board sign up, including a good mix of both seniors and freshman,” Brosnan said. “Some students want to drive the robot, while some want to help us out with the business aspects.”

Actual construction on the team’s machine did not occur until earlier this month, after the team received its first batch of parts for FIRST Robotics.

The team has recently completed construction on the chassis for their robot, which they temporarily dubbed “Bob.” The body uses an aluminum frame, milled by Bob Simons, whose son, Chris, is part of the team.

“I was talking to coach’s with other teams, and they said it was good for a rookie team to be this far along already,” Brosnan said.

At the moment, the students are focusing on the construction of the robot’s custom arm that will be used to launch balls into the goal during the game. Not only will the team have to design and build the device from scratch, but they will also be responsible for programming how far the robot tosses the ball.

While much work remains to get their entry ready for the competition in March, Brosnan said the team’s members have been more than willing to put in extra hours to accomplish their goals. Their Saturday meetings, which normally run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., have run as long as 6 p.m. as the team finished their work on the chassis.

“Those that are here everyday are pretty much motivated by the work we are doing,” Brosnan said. “I’m surprised they are willing to put this much time into the team.”

The students are also talking to local businesses to sponsor the team, with Sustainable Recycling offering to let the team pick up whatever scrap they may need. Brosnan is also looking for additional volunteers to help supervise and mentor the fledging engineers during their meetings.

“We’re hoping that, after the first completion, more people will jump to on board,” Brosnan said.

The coach encourages any student who is interested in joining the club to attend the team’s meetings, which take place at Room 109 after school.

“If you’re even thinking about a career in engineering, programming or mathematics, you should come see what we’re all about,” he said.