WOHS STEM students take first, third in robot challenge

The club at West Orange High School has expanded this year under the leadership of Priscilla Long.

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The Mad Eye Warriors and Harry the Platypus teams were geared up and ready to show off their robots at the Lockheed Martin Robotics Competition Feb. 20. In a contest with 18 teams from about 10 schools, the West Orange teams mixed potions, navigated obstacle courses and completed other tasks — and walked away with first- and third-place honors.

The teams represented West Orange High School’s STEM Club, led by engineering teacher and club sponsor Priscilla Long. Members are in ninth- through 12th grades.

The annual event is held during National Engineers Week. Prior to the competition, three Lockheed engineers visited West Orange to present this year’s theme — Harry Potter — and brought with them robotic chassis, circuit boards and sensors, telling the students what obstacles they would have to overcome, Long said.

“For example, they would have to go up a ramp, they would have to read an infrared frequency, and they would have to pick up and move objects from one place to another,” she said. “The engineers come over once a week, and they do teaching on programming sensors, different remote controls, and then the students start trying to figure out what they want to do. At one point they had to present what they thought the solutions would be.”

To have their robots in working order in time for the competition, Long said, the students put in many after-hours sessions together.

West Orange sent two teams of nine students. On the Mad Eye Warriors team were Jack Rainville, Donny Akers, Daniel Douglas, Hayden Leis, Darren Nguyen, Dalisha Victorin, Luke Swanson, Jaden Jean and Rhys Fisher. The Harry the Platypus team was comprised of Diya Raj, Avery Hanebrink, Andrew Vo, Megan Wilson, Hannah Taylor, Noah Blanchard, Aiden Fowler, Simon Ou and April Surac.

The winning robots took their teams to first- and third-place finishes.

In the last few years, Long has seen an increase in the number of students joining the club — this year there are about 35.

“I think there’s more awareness; I think students are branching out,” Long said. “I think we’re seeing more female representatives in our classes.”

Long said one-third of the West Orange teams was female.

“It’s a big deal because engineering is a very male-dominated profession,” she said. “I see it in my engineering classes, for sure. But it was just cool because we had so many young ladies participate. … We were kind of proud of having so many females.”

Participants are students willing to take risks who want to be around others who are willing to do that too, she said.

“It’s very much a team effort,” she said.

The teams started with a chain-reaction type machine that must ultimately complete tasks such as moving a marble along various chutes and ramps. Members came up with their own designs.

In the competition, teams navigated three courses — each with a driver and a mechanic on the floor and the other members on the sidelines solving various logic and math puzzles to help the two on the floor.

“Most of the teams brought a robot that had some kind of claw on it,” Long said. “We had a team that decided they were going to have a different strategy, and I think that was why we did so well. We did a robot with a claw, and we had a robot that pushed things along. The two teams worked together sort of. They had success with different methods.”

Rainville was the driver for the Mad Eye Warriors team and also worked on the design team, printing 3D parts and assembling mechanical devices.

“The aspect of creation really interests me and creating something from nothing and collaborating with others to solve a problem,” Rainville said.

He plans to study mechanical or industrial engineering in college.

Fowler was the driver for the Harry the Platypus team and was part of the design team as well.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking when I first stepped up,” Fowler said. “Not only 10 minutes before, one of our treads was slipping off. … We fixed it about five minutes before. … Once we got through the first round, we crushed it.”

“When he says they crushed it, they did it with time to spare,” Long said.

“I just love the creation of things,” Fowler said. “When I get the chance, I take apart things to see how they work and just fidget.”

Akers, the mechanic for Mad Eye Warriors, helped Rainville navigate the course and served as the communicator.

“The team came with the information, and I would communicate that with Jack,” he said. “One room we had to make a potion, and the challenge team found a recipe for a potion we had to make. And I had to tell Jack the correct ingredients to grab to make the potion.”

Akers also coded most of the robot and the infrared portion of the robot design.

“The work that he did with the programming was a huge benefit,” Long said.

Vo was on the Harry the Platypus challenge team and helped program the robot.

“We had to program a circuit board in order for our robot to move,” he said. “The other team had a motor controller. We had one as well, but unfortunately it did not work with our design, so we had to program one for it to work.”

Working together is a must on any winning team, and the two STEM Club teams did so successfully.

“No one knew everything about the robot,” Rainville said. “We had to come together to use our own strengths. … I didn’t know much of the coding as well, so I had to work with Donny and Andrew.”

Wilson was the lead on the challenge team and helped with design ideas. Raj also worked on design ideas, helping build the robot and helping fix issues with it. Hanebrink was on the challenge team and helped come up with the practical concepts.

Wilson and Raj joined the club because they want to study engineering in college. Hanebrink became a member because of her passion for engineering, math and science.

“It’s definitely a privilege to have a club like this,” Rainville said.

The winning teams: Mad Eye Warriors is comprised of Jack Rainville, Donny Akers, Daniel Douglas, Hayden Leis, Darren Nguyen, Dalisha Victorin, Luke Swanson, Jaden Jean and Rhys Fisher. On the Harry the Platypus team are Diya Raj, Avery Hanebrink, Andrew Vo, Megan Wilson, Hannah Taylor, Noah Blanchard, Aiden Fowler, Simon Ou and April Surac.


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