What is it? Holy Family’s robotics club, competing under the team name PyroBotics, is an opportunity for students interested in programming, engineering and robotics classes to form a competitive team of robo-builders. The team competes in competitions sponsored by FIRST®, encouraging students to immerse themselves in science and technology.
- FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC): Small-scale, regional autonomous robotic competition open to middle- and high-school students. Offered fall semester.
- FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC): Industrial-scaled autonomous robots designed by high-school students compete in a full-scale worldwide game. Offered spring semester.
What is the FIRST® Robotics Competition? Think NASCAR meets Transformers, giving students a chance to experience what professional engineers do every day. Billed as the “ultimate sport for the mind,” this competition is all about teamwork. Students build and program an industrial-scale robot that performs programmed tasks in a competitive arena. With more than 10 members on a team, working with professional volunteer mentors, the competition combines the excitement of sports with the rigors of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
Who can compete? Students completing Holy Family’s Technical Studies and Engineering Graphics II.
Do students earn credit? Students enrolled in Robotics 1, 2 or 3 earn .5 credit for each course. Middle-school students can now take these courses and earn Holy Family credit, enabling them to participate in robotics in ninth grade.
What skills do members of the robotics team learn?
- Team collaboration
- Problem solving
- Mechanical engineering
- Electrical engineering
- 3D printing
Learn About Holy Family’s 60+ Extracurricular Activities HERE.
Robotics: Holy Family’s Engineering Tradition
Long before 2012 graduate Brian Kubisiak began high school at Holy Family, he was already rock solid on the fundamentals of computer programming. It is something his dad taught him early on, a second language that came completely natural to him and immediately drew him into the Innovation Lab at Holy Family.
“I started taking engineering classes with Nick (Livermore) my freshman year,” Kubisiak recalls. “When he proposed starting a robotics team, I eagerly accepted this opportunity to further my education in technology. I was looking for any chance to gain experience in programming, both through classes and extracurricular activities.”
In 2009, Kubisiak and a handful of like-minded students joined Livermore to launch the robotics team at Holy Family. They competed in the FIRST® Tech Challenge , a competition sponsored by FIRST® -For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The organization, founded long before the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) acronym caught on, focuses on inspiring young people to immerse themselves in science and technology.
Taste of Engineering
Competing in FIRST events offers students opportunities well beyond building robots. FIRST gives students a chance to experience and pursue STEM-related fields, inspiring them to become leaders and innovators while gaining important life skills, like collaboration, teamwork and problem solving.
“Robotics was a great learning experience for me, and many of the lessons I learned about working with a team are still relevant to my career,” Kubisiak says.
Kubisiak graduated from Holy Family with 5 credits of technology, 4 more than are required to graduate. He and his teammates also led the robotics team to the next level, launching the school’s entry into the FIRST® Robotics Competition, where teams of students build industrial-sized robots to compete in an intense game of survival against high schools from around the world. It’s billed as the “ultimate sport for the mind.”
Building on Tradition
Early success has led to a thriving Holy Family robotics team. Last year’s team qualified for the World Championships held in St. Louis, the second to do that since the program began. Perhaps that was the motivating factor that brought 10 of the 18 robotics students to the Innovation Lab on Student Assistance Day (SAD) on a chilly January morning this year.
With just a few weeks left to troubleshoot and fine-tune, it was all hands on deck. “Mona Lisa,” the name given to this year’s robot, needed to be “bagged up” and shipped to the FRC district competition site by late February. The competition, however, won’t start until a month later, March 28 to March 31, at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena. Follow their matches at https://www.thebluealliance.com/events where you will find updates and links to live video.
If there were such a thing as a card up your sleeve in robotics, it would have to be a second bot the team built named “Frankenstein.” A replica of Mona Lisa, this spec-bot allows the team to test, tweak and troubleshoot in the weeks leading up to the competition. Any modifications made to Frankenstein will be applied to Mona Lisa in the “pits” during competition weekend.
Commitment to Team
What’s most impressive-the students, eager to push the boundaries of their technical comfort zones, come to the Innovation Lab on their own time. Just as they have each weekend since January 6, when the details and tasks for this year’s FIRST® Robotics Competition were streamed live worldwide.
“One of the biggest goals of robotics is to understand the teamwork that goes with it,” Livermore says. “I’m always impressed by their resilience not to give up. Some kids stay here for 10 hours on a Saturday, and will not give up until the robot is working.”
The group works in small teams, each playing a vital role to the completed project. Some build, others program. They test to see who is best at driving the bot in a makeshift arena that emulates what they’ll face during competition, built by volunteer parents. Adult mentors, including Livermore; math teacher Gary Kannel; career engineers Bill Barnett and Tom Barrett; and Tufts University student and Holy Family grad Claire Pernat help students troubleshoot the robot or system programs.
Despite homework, winter sports and other club activities, robotics team members have only six weeks to complete their FRC robot. Robotics captain Nikolai Charchenko works around his varsity hockey schedule, as does sophomore Sydney Paulsen (shown in the top image).
Lead programmer Colin Dosedel, in his second robotics year as a junior, is captain of the Math League and is involved in Mock Trial, Knowledge Bowl and Honors Society. Freshman Jeremy Schumacher competes in the Math League, Quiz Bowl and Mock Trial. They all agree robotics is something that has to take priority in their busy schedules.
“It’s a team,” says Schumacher, who was introduced to robotics when Holy Family’s team visited his middle school, St. Hubert Catholic School. “People are counting on you to get the work done. If you don’t come in, that means you’re letting the whole team down.”
Paulsen, one of three girls competing on this year’s team, says, “You have to make sacrifices. This is important-you can go out with your friends other times.”
The Task at Hand
Teams design their bots to compete in a full-scale robo-battle with new rules and tasks to accomplish each year. This year’s game, called “FIRST® Power Up,” requires each robot to lift square weights up to 7-1/2 feet in the air and place them on a large balance scale, with the goal of tipping the scale in your team’s favor. The task put so much stress on the robot’s lift that the Holy Family team was forced to disassemble and redesign the lift arms to add more support.
Charchenko is in charge of keeping the entire team on task, making sure there is plenty of time to have all the bugs worked out before it’s “go time.”
“It (robotics) makes me think in a critical way while also working as a team, to get a big project done,” he says. “That’s something you can’t get from other extracurricular activities.”
Dosedel agrees the deep-thinking collaboration robotics requires is something unique.
“I like working together to accomplish one goal,” he says. “A lot of people might want to do it all themselves. But you really can’t do that. It takes lots of ideas and to be open, not closed-minded on your own opinions.
Many Doors and Possibilities
While Charchenko’s sights are set on a career that includes hockey, engineering is his fallback plan.
“Robotics will definitely play a part in what degree I’ll take in college,” he says. “I heard that mechanical engineering is improving past inventions and making them better today. It’s hands-on engineering. I like having that visual idea and showing people.”
For Paulsen, robotics provides her an opportunity to try new things before committing to a degree track in college.
“I think being in robotics will confirm that I want to go into engineering in college,” she says. “I like solving a problem and getting my hands dirty until it gets done. It’s helpful knowing there are more females going into engineering and knowing that there are other people interested in the same things as me.”
Dosedel likes trying new things, and programming is just another challenge.
“I’m open to every thing,” he says. “I never thought I’d come to Holy Family and program a robot. I want to have an open mind to try new activities and learn new things.”
Picking Up STEAM
The future of Holy Family robotics is bright. This year at the Spirit of Fire Fundraiser, the fund-a-need focus was STEAM education (the added “A” stands for Arts). A portion of the $98,000 raised was invested into the Innovation Lab, where two additional 3D printers have been added, with plans for a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine this summer.
“All robots in the competition have to have at least one 3D printed piece,” Livermore explains. “Next year, we’re hoping to make an entire 3D printed robot. The only thing metal will be the motors and gears.”
To get middle-school students into Holy Family tech program and robotics quicker, Livermore started a pilot program three years ago. Tech classes are offered free to seventh and eighth graders during the first period. They can earn up to .5 technology credit for each class, which can be applied to Holy Family graduation.
“By completing both Technical Studies and Engineering Graphics II in middle school, ninth-grade students can immediately join robotics their first year,” Livermore says.
And that is called opportunity.
“Sometimes I’m kind of jealous,” he admits. “We have kids come through robotics that are now in biomedical engineering. They’re working on drones for Amazon. We have kids who are now programming at Rockwell Collins. They’re accomplishing things for huge companies and out there doing what they started in high school.”