Students unveil robot for CERDEC mentors
(From left) Spenser Puffenbarger, Marc Evans and Christopher Flake test the robot's firing apparatus. CERDEC engineers mentored the students as they designed and built the robot.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Thirty-six local high school students from Team 1980, "The Brigade," unveiled a robot they created under the guidance of mentors from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, during a Feb. 15 presentation at the C4ISR Campus.

The robot, named Barreta, will compete in the Chesapeake Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Baltimore Convention Center March 8-10.

The Brigade is the only high school FIRST Robotics Team in Harford County, headquartered at Aberdeen High School. FIRST, which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," is a national organization that encourages students to take part in the ever changing environment of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.

Every January, FIRST reveals the competition at an annual kick-off event that is simulcast to locations around the world. Teams receive a kit of common parts that will be used to build the core systems of the robot. These parts come without an instruction manual and include everything from programmable radio controllers and motors to circuitry and mechanical parts. Students have six weeks to conceptualize, design, build, program, test, modify and enter the robots in the competition.

This year the students were tasked with creating a robot that would participate in the Rebound Rumble, a robotics game between two alliances of three teams each. Each alliance will try to score as many basketballs as possible in the hoops during two-minute and 15-second matches. The higher the hoop, the more points the shot is worth.

Alliances can earn bonus points by balancing the robots on bridges at the end of the matches. The winning team will compete in the FIRST Championship at Saint Louis, Mo.

Though they have competed as a team since 2006 and worked with members of the APG community previously, this is the first year the students have partnered with CERDEC mentors and constructed their robot at a CERDEC lab space. For six weeks, students visited the CERDEC Prototype Integration Facility two to three times a week to construct the robot under the direction of sheet metal mechanics, engineers, machinists and electrical technicians.

Erica Bertoli, lead for the CERDEC Educational Outreach team, said the students were focused and motivated throughout the process.

"The Department of Defense and the Army has to be building the next generation of students, the next generation of scientists and engineers, because you are going to keep this nation safe for generations to come," Bertoli said to the students during the presentation. "The fact that you are already so motivated tells us that we are in good hands for our future."

Joseph Ryan, a division chief with CERDEC's Command and Control Directorate who secured the lab space for the students, said having a dedicated space gave the students more time to focus on their project. In previous years, the students used a hallway at their school to build the robot. The public space created several logistical problems as they had to spend extra time setting up and putting away the project each day.

During the presentation, he told the students that this project gave the students a chance to experience what "real life" engineers do every day.

"This is as close as you can get to engineering while you are at this stage," he said.

Ryan later said engineering students need mentors and guidance due to the rigorous coursework required of them in college and graduate school.

"Working on exciting projects is one way to encourage the students," he said. "We want to show them that being an engineer is fun. The effort that they put in school will afford them with a promising career."

Michael Reis, a CERDEC electronics engineer and mentor on the projects, said the students were eager to tackle difficult problems.

"They are doing college level work," Reis said. "I was amazed at their dedication. The mentors just provided them with guidance, all the hard work came from them."

Junior Naveed Rahman, who has been on the FIRST Robotics team since his freshman year, said this is the first time his team could win the competition.

"I am excited to go to competition. Working here made a big difference," he said. "We were more focused in this professional environment."

Rahman added that being on the FIRST Robotics team helped him decide to pursue a career in engineering.

"Being on this team gave me real world engineering experience," he said. "It taught me how to persevere and solve problems."

Page last updated Mon February 27th, 2012 at 10:40