The Vicksburg Middle School Robotic team, aka The Control Freaks, qualified for a mid-December state robotics competition for the second year in a row. Its two robots finished in 20th and 26th place at the Battle Creek competition , according to its Facebook page.
The club includes rookies – first-year students in grades 5-7 – and experienced students in grades 6-8 compete in the competitions. The club has been operating for the past seven years and continues to grow and succeed.
In this year’s challenge, the club’s two robots operated in a 12-foot-square field with a foam mat floor surrounded by foot-high walls. They scored by moving “relics,” foam blocks, into boxes, completing rows and columns. The robots operated autonomously for the first 30 seconds of a match, then under driver control for the remaining two minutes.
The worldwide competition is organized by FIRST, an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” founded by Dean Kamen in 1989. The students were participating in the FTC, the FIRST Tech Challenge. The 2018 world championships in Mid-April are being hosted in Detroit.
The nonprofit organizer’s website notes that first-year costs for a team are about $2,200, including registration, kits and travel, but less in later years as parts are reused. FIRST accepts tax-deductible contributions and makes grants available to some schools. The Vicksburg group operates completely with local sponsorships.
The FTC season began the first full week of school with students gathering to watch a video from a previous competition. They met at the Middle School for about 3 hours on Tuesdays and every other Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. to design, program, build and test their robots. The group is very thankful to its sponsors and to the Vicksburg Schools for the support and the allocation of old woodshop space to the club for the season which extended through to the holiday break.
The Control Freaks are led by adult mentors Eric Hackman and Matt Bombich. Hackman said “Next year we are planning to grow the club at the Elementary schools with First Lego League teams.” They’re assisted with technical expertise by fellow mentors Andy DeVries, Jason Caster, Andy Ackerman, Chad Wireman, Bill Hull and Andrea Murphy. The Rookies group met weekly to learn about and program their own smaller scale robot. The group has 20 members with 14 or so regularly attending, allowing two or three students to work with each robot. This group of rookies will advance next year to compete with the FTC teams as they lose eight of their 20 members to high school.