The 2024 robotics season kicked off in January with student teams for Rosie Robotics at Agawam High School and Mechatronic Maniacs at West Springfield High School ramping out work to design and build their newest robots for the first round of competition in late March.

While students learn many STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, they’re finding that working on a robotics team benefits them in other ways, too. Team members shared why they like robotics and how it helps them beyond building robots.

Tim Rua is the design lead for Agawam’s Rosie Robotics team. He works with the CAD program and communicates to other sub-teams about how to build the robot.

Parts are manufactured based on what the design team creates. Design is a critical component of the build process. It helps ensure that when the button is pushed, the computer lights up and the robot works.

“Communication and teamwork are essential. Everyone needs to know what each of us doing. If silly mistakes happen, they can set us back a week in machining or programming,” said the sophomore.

“We don’t have the time for that. We have to be connected and know each of us is doing,” he said. “If something goes wrong because of miscommunication, there are actual consequences, including time setbacks and not having our robot work as well as it should.”

Rua said he’s sharpened his communication skills — and his public speaking skills from presentations about Rosie Robotics — through the robotics program.

“If I continue on a path to an engineering career, these are important skills I will always need,” said the 15-year-old.

Austin LeBlanc got involved in robotics in fourth grade. It was fun time, hanging out with friends, playing with Legos and learning at the same time. High school robotics, he said, is more challenging.

“Critical thinking skills are absolutely important,” said LeBlanc, who works on the design team. “You have to think about how every tiny aspect of the robot works.”

He said designers always have to think about which parts are physically possible to make and where they go: “Having screwheads hitting a piece of metal is a small thing, but it could lead to a fatal flaw for our robot.”

The 16-year-old — who is planning a career in either mechanical engineering, civil engineering or computer sciences — said learning to use critical thinking helps him solve simple and difficult problems in robotics and in the classroom.

“Now, I can conquer problems easier in my head. If I’m writing, I can look at the prompt I’m trying to answer and come up with unique ideas revolving around that, rather than coming up with a cookie-cutter explanation for a certain thing,” said the sophomore.

Kylie Henry said it’s a little nerve-wracking, but exciting to be part of the robotics team.

A member of the machining team, the ninth grader said she likes brainstorming with other team members about what to do and what parts to make.

“I like building parts for the design team and watching it all come together,” she said.

The 14-year-old makes parts on a manual milling machine: “I’ve always wanted to do machining because I love being hands-on with building things. I love trying to find ways to make parts to the correct size.”

Henry said one skill she’s learning is the ability to solve problems.

“It can be hard sometimes to figure out the right way to machine parts so they will fit properly. I have to rely on my problem-solving skills,” she said.

They have also boosted her academically.

“I’ve definitely seen an academic benefit to using my problem-solving skills in my courses,” said Henry, who wants some type of engineering career in the future.

Both robotics teams compete against teams from other high schools as part of the worldwide FIRST Robotics Challenge. Each year, the challenge defines a task or set of tasks the robot must perform, and student teams have about six weeks to build and program a robot, from scratch, to enter in competitions, which start in March. Competitions typically test the robot operating autonomously (controlled by its preprogramming only) and being “driven” by remote control. Teams that do well in local competition can qualify for tournaments at the state, regional, national and eventually international level.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts