Bearden robotics team gets started on ‘Recycle Rush’ competition


Taylor A. Johnson

Bearden seniors Lauren Leisenring, Bennett Croft, and Nathaniel Hauser (left to right) work on the team’s robot after school.

Danielle Fannon, Staff Writer

Bearden’s first robotics team attended a kickoff event at the University of Tennessee on Jan. 3, to begin building their robot for this year’s “Recycle Rush” competition.

They have until Feb. 17 to finish and send in their design; the actual competition will take place on April 3.

Club sponsor and physics teacher Mr. William Schult explained kick off as a 12-hour meeting including a discussion on basic rules, a robot-building class, and a skill-building seminar. Students also had the opportunity to build a basic drive train, frame, electronics board, and drive program.

“That lasted until around 8 p.m., but we left with a fully functioning driving robot,” Bearden senior and co-founder Bennett Croft said.

The “Recycle Rush” competition is a timed race requiring the robot to stack totes and recycling “trash can” containers into columns that are approximately six-and-a-half feet tall.

“It’s quite a challenge,” senior and co-founder Alex Skwarczynski said. “The whole team is really excited, however, and has some fantastic ideas about how to do this.”

With the help of a full time mentor and supportive parents with engineering backgrounds, the team has begun working at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, a part of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, to put these ideas to action. They are using the basic robot from kickoff and are now focusing on achieving a design to perform the tasks of the competition.

The design consists of a forklift mechanism with the hopes of creating a system of buttons that sets the arm to common heights. This will allow the driver to control the robot with ease and efficiency.

The ideas for the robot come from a pre-existing concept, such as a forklift, and are modified to face the challenges presented in the competition.  Mentors also prove to be of assistance with advice and additions to the ideas.

“We start with something basic and pre-existing, then someone will think of some slight variation or addition,” Skwarczynski said. “Then another student will think of an addition or variation to the first student’s idea, and the process repeats.”

However, being a rookie team does have its disadvantages.

“The challenge of being new is that we have to build a team and a robot this year,” Schult said. “The advantage that we do have is that a few of our more experienced members came from developed teams.”

Rookie teams are not completely disadvantaged, though. At the end of the competition, some awards are presented that only a rookie team can win. Also, five rookie teams can move on to Nationals after the Regional competition, and right now only five rookie teams are registered.

“Our kids have a fantastic sense of purpose and direction, so I know we’ll pull this off,” Croft said.

For more information and updates on the team’s progress, visit their Facebook page at FRC Team 5571 Ratchet or follow them on Twitter @BeardenRobotics.