Spruce Mountain Area Robotics Team 3930 learned Thursday, March 12, their competition season had been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team had planned to seek permission to attend the World Competition in Detroit, Michigan, later this spring. Member Drew Delaney explained some of their robot’s features to school board members. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

JAY — The coronavirus pandemic affecting the world has impacted the Spruce Mountain Area Robotics Team 3930 (SMART) with the March 12  cancellation of the FIRST Robotics Competition season.

The 2020 FRC game challenge was revealed in January and since then SMART spent time designing, building and programming a robot that could successfully complete this year’s game elements to score the most points in the competition.

The team had planned to compete in Reading, Massachusetts, and Lewiston, Maine. The team was hopeful their robot would qualify to compete at the FRC World Competition in Detroit, Michigan, later this spring but were to attend even if that didn’t happen.

SMART has attended the FRC World Competition every four years to give every student participating one chance to experience that event. Additional planning and fundraising are done the year they are to attend.

SMART Advisor Daniel Lemieux said, “During the four days before our season was shut down we put 18 hours into finishing our robot. Tuesday, March 10, we spent 6 hours practicing with the Mt. Blue team.

“When we left the practice field on Tuesday we felt extremely prepared for our competition on March 13-15 in Reading Massachusetts. When I arrived home I received an email from FIRST saying the competition was canceled.

“Before this email, all of the information that I was receiving was reassuring me that the competition would be going on. By March 12 our Pine Tree Event and the season were canceled.”

On March 12 SMART attended the school board meeting, originally to seek permission for their trip to Detroit. With the season ended earlier that day they instead talked about their robot’s features and gave a demonstration of how it works.

At the March 12 Regional School Board 73 meeting, SMART members gave a demonstration of the robot they built this year in preparation for the FIRST Robotics Competition season. The robot was designed to shoot balls into a tall power port which was about the same height as this basketball hoop. The season was canceled due to COVID-19. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

“We probably built one of the best robots we’ve ever built to play the game the way we want to play it,” he said.

Senior and SMART member Annabelle Collins said the robot features a drum shooter or wheel that shoots balls into a tall power port.

“Another wheel feeds balls into our shooter,” she said. “The wheel is connected to an actuator which makes contact with a control panel, like that seen on Wheel of Fortune. You have to rotate the control panel three times to earn points.”

SMART Mentor Rob Taylor said the game is based around Star Wars this year.

“On the field there’s a big area called the trench with a low portal at the end. It’s like Luke Skywalker flying his X-wing fighter to blow up the Death Star. That’s exactly what it looks like.

“The robot has to be short enough to go under that little archway. You can build a taller robot but it can’t go under the trench. If you don’t, there are all these obstacles in the way on the field..

“In part of the game, there is an asteroid storm headed to our planet. The objective is to save the planet from the asteroids. You have to turn on a giant switch that requires robots to grab onto it, pull it down and hang on it to balance. You can have three robots hanging on the overhead bar. They have to be off the ground, keeping the bar within 8 degrees of horizontal.”

SMART member Drew Delaney said the robot has a telescoping system that allows it to reach the height needed. It deploys a hook, winches the robot up to hang on the bar.

“It works pretty well and allows us to stay under the trench,” he said.

Regional School Unit 73 Director and SMART Mentor Ann Schwab said there are other things involved besides building the robot.

“Kids write and submit a report for the Chairman’s Award, Scott Jackson (a school board student representative) is in charge of entrepreneurship,” she said. “The robot is the coolest part.”

Monday, March 23, Lemieux said, “We at SMART understand why the season was canceled. It’s just extremely disappointing.  We have worked so hard to build this year’s robot.

“I really hope FRC would consider running this year game next year, allowing us to use this robot for next year’s competition. Having built a really good robot and only use it in postseason events will be very disappointing. And I really don’t think we’ll even get to those postseason events with the current situation.”

Lemieux noted his team will not get to go to the world championships in Detroit.

“I’ve spent much of the last week canceling hotel reservations, airplane tickets, and reservations at the Henry Ford Museum,” he said.

SMART students, parents and mentors spent every Saturday in January and February plus two days after school preparing for the competition.
“We spent over 100 hours building a robot, writing the chairman’s 10,000 word report and creating team costumes, buttons and all the necessary things needed for competitions,” Lemieux said. “We had parents and students sewing costumes, making bumpers, and preparing presentations for judges.
“All of this could not be done without the parents/mentors. Many spent countless hours helping our students prepare for the upcoming season.
“Many of our mentors spent time shopping, going to hardware stores, and preparing things at home for our team. Each Saturday during build season we fed up to 25 people.  Having families donate food saved us a lot of money and resources.”
Lemieux said almost everything was packed when he learned the season had been canceled.
“It’s not anyone’s fault,” he said.
Lemieux plans to retire at the end of the school year. Not being able to compete with this year’s robot, perhaps the best his students have ever built, is frustrating, he said.

 


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