Main photo: Hoya Robotics team members and mentors at the FIRST Robotics competition in North Bay at the end of March (back from left) Nancy Topps, Gabe Nadrofsky, Pam Nadrofsky, Dave Topps, Andrew Johnston, Daniel Cuthbert, Jeff Waller, Jakob Heinz, Liam Martin-McTavish, Morghan Kiverago, Scott Chapeskie, Billy Reynolds, Scott Taylor, Sydney Taylor, Darry Scott, Debbie Reynolds, Doug Nadrofsky; (kneeling from left): Ian McTavish, Noah Morgan, Andrea Bonafini, Megan Cameron, Nolan Meehan, Sam Topps, Keira Brisebois, David Sinton, and James Simpson. (Photo: Adianna Dalziel)
There’s something satisfying about building a thing yourself. It becomes even moreso when that thing is recognized as something special. And when you’re a group of high school students and the recognition comes from professionals? That’s impressive.
The Hoya Robotics team at Huntsville High School won an award for their work at their most recent competition, a FIRST Robotics event in North Bay. The award—the Excellence in Engineering Award sponsored by Delphi—”celebrates an elegant and advantageous machine feature” and the Hoyas received it for their design of the hatch delivery mechanism on their newest robot. The hatch is a disc with a hole in the middle; one of a team’s tasks in a competition is to use their robot to pick hatches up in one location and deliver them to another location.
Each year the team designs a new robot to be used in competition. In the past they have had to look mostly for boxed solutions—parts that they could buy and either use straight from the box or that they could adapt for their needs—or rely on sponsors to help them manufacture something custom.
But this year, with the support of sponsors, the team was able to purchase a CNC machine. It has made all the difference. In conjunction with a 3D printer that the team already had, they were able to design and build their own parts and they could do it much more quickly. And if the part didn’t work quite the way they expected when they tested the robot on their practice field—another new element this year, again thanks to sponsors—they could tweak the design and build a replacement part with equal speed.
The idea for the hatch design began with a Robot in Three Days Challenge, in which post-secondary, amateur and professional robotics teams build a robot for the same challenge that secondary students are tasked with completing in six weeks, but they do it in just three days.
“We saw them playing around with similar concepts and we thought it was a pretty good idea,” says team member Andrew Johnston. His fellow team member Sam Topps took that concept and designed his own version to suit the Hoyas’ robots needs. “We did some prototyping, tested a few versions, improved upon it.” They even included coding so that, at the press of a button, the hatch mechanism would rise to the exact height needed.
But it wasn’t just the design itself that the team was judged on for the award. The team had to be able to describe where the idea came from, how they designed and manufactured it, and how they used it in competition. And their design had to stand up in competition.
“It outperformed our expectations,” says Johnston. “I really didn’t see anything (other hatch mechanisms at the competition) that was quite as sophisticated as ours… It’s our best robot yet.”
HHS teacher and team mentor Ian McTavish was impressed by how the team interacted with the judges.
“The confidence they displayed…they knew the machine inside and out and that was the impressive thing,” says McTavish. “(Some of the judges) are professors at the university, there’s the president of a mining company, some are engineers. They’re professionals.”
And the team’s robot was not only the best at delivering hatches during that competition, their stats ranked among some of the top teams in the world. “We definitely have a mechanism that was incredibly effective.”
Now that qualifying teams are complete, there is an excellent chance that the team will be off to provincials next. Qualification is based on points and by McTavish’s calculations, they’ve got enough to get them there. He also believes they have a good shot at qualifying for the world championships in Detroit at the end of this month.
(UPDATE APRIL 3, 2019: The team has officially received an invitation to compete at the provincial championships!)
The team will need a significant amount of money in order to get there. Between provincials and worlds, as a whole the team will need to spend about $25,000 on travel and accommodations, in addition to the $300 each student has already paid just to compete. They are hoping to cover most those costs with some sponsorships and fundraisers that will likely be held immediately after the provincial competition—the students are busy catching up on schoolwork now—so that they can commit to going to the worlds if they qualify.
“We are still growing. We knew that this year was going to be a better year,” says McTavish. “We have been pleasantly surprised at how well we’ve done.”
Watch for results from the provincial competition and the team’s fundraising efforts on Doppler in the coming weeks.
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