A local robotics team is preparing to enter an international competition next week.
The RoboBees, a high school team that’s part of the growingSTEMS program — a nonprofit group in Hollywood that provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics experiences for students — competed in the Chesapeake District Championship against teams from Washington, Maryland and Virginia, at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., last weekend where they made it to the quarterfinals.
David Allocca Jr., the team’s vice president and a junior who is homeschooled, said they never lost a match in the qualification rounds of the district championship.
“Even the announcers said at one point, ‘the RoboBees are undefeated,’” Shelby Hall, one of the team’s mechanics and an eighth-grader at Leonardtown Middle School, said.
The RoboBees, however, did lose in a tiebreaker round in the quarterfinals of the district championship. Andrew Koch, the team’s media mentor, said there were some issues with the robots. “It’s very easy to get bitter about one loss,” he said, adding that the loss was an opportunity for improvement.
“Things don’t always go as planned,” David Allocca Sr., a RoboBees volunteer, said while looking at his 17-year-old son. “All that matters is that we’re insanely proud of these guys.”
The middle school team also competed in the Chesapeake District Championship, but only the high schoolers qualified for the international competition.
They are the highest seated team of all the region’s teams for the FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) global championship in Detroit, which starts next Wednesday, April 24.
This year marks the ninth time in a row the team qualified for the world championship. The students competed in the tournament last year and lost in the quarterfinals, but they learned from their mistakes.
“Simplicity works, and it worked in the past,” the son said.
Before a competition, a lot goes on behind the scenes at the RoboBees building in the industrial park on Airport View Drive. Everyone on the team has a different job. Some manage the public relations and media, and others are responsible for mechanics.
Keyshaun Herbert, an 11th-grader at Great Mills High School, is responsible for programming the robot. He also keeps track of everything that works and fails.
“I am what you call, the log guy,” Herbert said. The media group records the robot matches to make sure they don’t miss any important data. “My job would be way more difficult if they didn’t record this.”
Part of the vice president’s job is to have a “bird’s eye view” and see how the robot is coming together, according to Allocca Jr. He said he also gets his hands dirty by working with some of the wiring.
On April 15, the team was preparing to pack up their competition robot, Athena, with pieces of their practice robot just in case Athena needs replacement parts.
Athena is a 98 pound robot with 16 sensors. It also has a status alert camera and a vision alert camera.
“One of the things we do well is we really build a good practice robot,” Allocca Jr. said.
Their practice arena had a couple holes on the side from collisions with the practice robot. The vice president said Athena is pretty strong.
One of the objectives for the competition is to climb up and down platforms. It’s something Allocca Jr. said they do really well and within three seconds.
“A lot of the teams are not quite as fast as us,” he said.
The overall goal is to use the robots to place cargo into “rocket ships” — the cargo is actually large rubbery balls, and the rocket ship is a wooden structure with circular holes around it. The robots have to seal in the holes with velcro panels so the balls do not fall out.
The team takes pride in Athena’s autonomous features, which allows the robot to load in the cargo handsfree. It’s programmed to drive and operate on its own. They even won an award for that feature in the district championship.
“We impressed a lot of judges with the work that we do,” Koch said.
The RoboBees have won many awards from past competitions. Their walls and shelves are decorated with 12 banners and 38 trophies from over the years.
“At the end of the day, no matter who wins, it’s all about the students,” Allocca Jr. said.