PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- By developing a robot inspired by visits to Picatinny Arsenal, a team of middle-school students was able to capture first place in a recent robotics competition.

In August 2015, Picatinny Arsenal engineer Tim Rybarski decided to start a robotics club that included his son Alec and four of his friends, who all attend Long Valley Middle School. The team name is "Those Guys."

They participate in the First Tech Challenge, where teams consists of students in grades 7-12. They are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to play a floor game by two "alliances" and two robots each. Robots score points by "resetting" rescue beacons; delivering rescue climbers to a shelter; parking on a mountain; and parking in a rescue beacon repair zone or floor goal.

Robots may also score points by retrieving debris from the playing field and placing them in a mountain or floor goal. The Challenge/Game changes every year, and the there is a "game revel" every September to kick off the robotics season.

Participants have access to millions of dollars in college scholarships. Each season concludes with regional championships and a world championship.

Participants call it "the hardest fun you'll ever have!"

The students develop skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and practice principles like keeping an engineering notebook, while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and sharing ideas.

The mechanical and electrical parts of robots are reusable each year. The robot is controlled via a logistic joystick, which is connected (via USB) to an android smartphone. That smartphone has a direct Wi-Fi link to another android phone on the robot itself, which communicates to the peripherals via USB. The programming is all done in the Java programming language.

The team got to work in August after the game was revealed. The team decided that the best way to score points would be to climb the man-made mountain, which gradually elevates to 60 degrees, and which the robot has to climb over metal bars/churros.

In the first brainstorming meeting, the team decided that the best way to climb over the obstacles at a high angle was to use tank treads and keep the robot at a very low center of gravity. Alec Rybarski was accustomed with seeing Army vehicles while attending Picatinny's "Bring Your Child to Work" days and summer camps. So the boys decided to use the Ripsaw vehicle as their inspiration.

On December 19, the team had its third competition at the STEM meet at Chatham Middle school, where they competed against 28 teams, most of which were veteran high school teams.

CONSISTENT TRACTION'

The team was consistently able to climb the mountain, and in the qualifying rounds managed to remain undefeated. The team ended up taking first place by a significant margin. The tank-inspired robot not only enabled the team to score first place, but also helped the team win a design award during the competition.

"I was not surprised with the performance of the robot since we had done some significant testing," said team caption Alec Rybarski. "But I was surprised how well the team ended up in overall scoring in the competition."

The next challenge for the team is to create a mechanism and write software so that the robot can grab and pull itself up on a bar that is elevated off of the mountain, which would result in a significant amount of points in the competition.

The robotics season ends in February unless the team qualifies for the world championships.

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The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.