2017-04-20 / Schools

Team’s bot to take on the world

By Hector Gonzalez


INTENSE CONCENTRATION—Above, Nathan Choi, 15, of Thousand Oaks works on a robot with his Brain Stormz team in sponsor Jeff DeVico’s Camarillo garage earlier this month. At right, team member Kimberly Sharp, 16, of Camarillo takes apart a robot. INTENSE CONCENTRATION—Above, Nathan Choi, 15, of Thousand Oaks works on a robot with his Brain Stormz team in sponsor Jeff DeVico’s Camarillo garage earlier this month. At right, team member Kimberly Sharp, 16, of Camarillo takes apart a robot. It was a gutsy move.

Rather than play it safe and go with the design that won them a regional robotics competition in Washington state last month, the team of students from the homeschool program at the private Trinity Pacific Christian School in Thousand Oaks decided to deconstruct their bot and start from scratch.

But with a world robotics competition coming up today in Texas, the seven Brain Stormz team members were scrambling two weeks ago to work out a few kinks in their new design.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” team member Jacob Newman, 16, of Camarillo said. “This robot is definitely better than the one before, but the fact that we’re assembling it just before (the) world’s (competition), there’s inevitably going to be some flaws that we didn’t foresee. Hopefully, we can work out most of those before the actual competition.”


Photos by ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers Photos by ROB VARELA/Acorn Newspapers Robots are ranked by the number of functions they’re capable of performing, said Jeff DeVico of Camarillo, a parent and one of the robotics club’s two advisers. The team’s old bot was “about a 145-point robot, which put us somewhere in the top 50 robots in the world,” he said.

But the Brain Stormz members felt that wasn’t good enough, DeVico said.

So they increased the bot’s speed, enhanced its mechanism for scooping up and shooting plastic balls at an elevated target and made other modifications and improvements. Now it can shoot one small plastic ball every three seconds, enough to give the team a shot at the world challenge, he said.

Although it hasn’t been ranked yet, DeVico estimated the new bot is about a 175-point robot, “which will put us in the top 25 robots in the world,” he said.

“I’m glad we decided to completely rebuild it,” Jacob said as the team worked in DeVico’s garage earlier this month. “With the old one, we would’ve been in the mushy middle somewhere, not noteworthy in any way. This robot is better, so at least we have a chance of being noticed.”

To qualify for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge world championship for middle and high school students ages 12 to 18, Brain Stormz competed against 71 other teams from across the western United States at the super-regional competition March 10 through 12 in Tacoma, Wash., and scored in the top 10.

They’ll be going up against about 140 teams at the FIRST Championship in Houston.

This year’s contest, “Velocity Vortex,” challenges students’ home-built bots to complete a series of tasks involving shooting small plastic balls at targets, lifting a larger rubber ball onto a raised platform and pushing color-coded buttons in a specific sequence.

Four robot teams will square off in matches, which start with a 30-second autonomous period in which the bots follow preprogrammed instructions, followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period. The last 30 seconds of the match is comprised of a driver controlled period called “End Game,” which adds new opportunities to score points.

Teams can be penalized points for making the wrong moves with their robots.

Founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, New Hampshirebased FIRST hopes to inspire middle and high school students to pursue STEM—science, engineering, technology and math— careers by making the subjects fun, the program’s website said.

Because interest in the competition has boomed, this year FIRST is hosting two annual championships, one in Houston, the other in St. Louis, the nonprofit organization said.

Teams have six months to finance, design and build their robots, so members have to pitch in and contribute their own skills and talents.

“I did most of the programming,” said Nathan Choi, 15, the son of Sung Choi, the other team adviser. “I like programming because of the logic involved. I like the way it works.”

Daniel Peace, 17, enjoys working with his hands.

“I primarily design and build, but I also touch a little on the coding side,” said the senior from Simi Valley, who plans to attend Moorpark College before enrolling at a four-year university to major in software design.

Kimberly Sharp, a 16-yearold Camarillo resident, is into prototyping “but also putting the ideas into practice,” she said. The team’s only female member became interested in robots two years ago when she joined the club’s Lego robotics team.

“Last year I had too much schoolwork and didn’t quite feel like I could do (the FIRST Tech Challenge). This year I was like, ‘I miss it, I’m just going to go for it,’” she said.

The other team members are Joshua Soto, 14, of Thousand Oaks, the team’s coach and strategist; DeVico’s son, Noah, 15, who specializes in building and designing; and David Modrovich, 15, of Camarillo, who played a key role in raising about $15,000 to fund the project.

Monetary donations large and small have come from several companies and foundations. American Plastics Corp. of Camarillo, for example, donated the plexiglass that was crucial to building the bot, DeVico said.

A fundraiser benefiting the team was held all day Tuesday at Presto Pasta, 1701 E. Daily Drive, Camarillo. A portion of the restaurant’s sales for the day went to Brain Stormz.

The team has a gofundme account at www.gofundme.com/ftcteam10298-brain-stormz-stem.

“We’re working on the arm that lifts the big ball on top of the center vortex,” Kimberly said, showing a visitor some of the improvements the team added to their new bot.

“We’re also getting ready to drive it and practice remote control. We had a good robot, then we just totally rebuilt it. But it’s working better. I’d say we’re almost there.”

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