The Valley’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics teams had their robots built and ready to compete in early 2020, but coronavirus hit in March and canceled the season.
Now, the teams already have the robots from last year ready to go, but received word earlier this month that there will be no in-person competitions.
Rather, there will be challenges and presentations that each team will record and submit for judging.
FIRST Robotics aims to have teams construct a robot to solve real-world problems with movement of the robot. Teams use technology skills in their process to create their robots and solutions through brainstorming.
Teams from Girard High School, Warren G. Harding High School and Austintown Fitch High School are among the local FIRST Robotics teams ready to move forward.
Because of ongoing challenges for teams with remote and hybrid learning, new creative challenge opportunities for teams to participate remotely this season were implemented.
Ashraf Hadi, an adviser for Girard FIRST Robotics Robocats Team 379, said the team last February was able to make one regional competition in Dayton.
“We were scheduled to go to one other competition in Cleveland when it was canceled and the whole season shut down. We have the robot from last year that was intended to play in the games. We just have to get it up and running again and tackle the challenges,” he said.
The new season was unveiled earlier this month, indicating there would be no in-person competition.
“They are recycling last year’s robots and game, and redoing it this year,” Hadi said. He noted all the teams have robots and field elements they built from 2020.
He said the robots take part in FIRST Innovation Challenges, including a challenge for a team to design its own game, coming up with a solution to a problem and explaining the engineering process to do this.
Another competition is Infinite Recharge at Home with five challenges for the robot to accomplish, such as scoring so many points in under a minute; or how testing how fast the robot can get through an obstacle course or field layout.
Most of the planning meetings this year are by Zoom, but some students have come to the building.
“We watched the introduction online with some of us at the school and the rest watching online. This year, instead of brainstorming a robot, we were brainstorming a game, ” Hadi said.
He said instead of the team having to go to a competition, it will record a presentation on the game design and submit submissions in a digital format, with deadlines for submitting the results.
The Girard team has competed in robotics for more than 20 years.
Charles Kaufman, a Girard sophomore in his second year, said when he first heard the season’s challenge he didn’t think it would be interesting, because he likes to build things.
“When I realized I could help create games, that made me get interested in this,” he said.
Eugene Mach, one of the coaches for Warren G. Harding High School’s FIRST Robotics Delphi Elite Team 48, said the team is going to participate this year.
“Everything will be done virtually this year with presentations with the robots and written awards,” he said.
Mach said because the robots have already been constructed from last season, there will be more challenges this year for the robot rather than building the robots.
Though teams are meeting mostly by Zoom, they are allowed a maximum of 10 people in the shop areas of the school, which will utilize three rooms.
“Anything we can do by Zoom and virtually we will,” Mach said.
Mach said all presentations, videos, and paperwork have to be done by April. He said judging will be done by engineers and other professionals in FIRST Robotics.
In 2020, Mach said the Harding team was in Orlando, Fla., at a competition when it was canceled due to the coronavirus. “We were stuck in Florida for a few days when it got canceled,” he said.
Mach said what is most important is to keep the kids energized.
Andy Yantes, lead mentor for the Austintown Fitch High School Falcotech Team 3193, said last year the team was fortunate enough to compete at the regional competition in Dayton.
He said this year’s team has 15 students with three new students.
“The kids are excited to be able to do something this year. It will be different than what they have done in the past. They listened to what we have to do this year and are ready to work and meet deadlines,” Yantes said.
He said at this time of the year, the team — which is marking its 12th year of competing — would be working on the robot from 5 to 10 p.m. at the school. Now,with social distancing, the team can only have eight people together working from 6 to 8 p.m.
“What is most important now is to keep the team energized and excited. I want them to be able to get something out of this,” Yantes said.
Yantes said he is planning for a local in-person off-season competition for September so area teams can at least come together and compete in some way.