3314 Ready to POWER UP

Clifton's STEM Sensations

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3314 Ready to POWER UP

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Clifton High School’s local robotics team, 3314 The Mechanical Mustangs, is three weeks into its competition season and it has been one of the best so far.

FIRST Robotics is an organization that runs yearly international robotics competitions designed to challenge the STEM abilities of students around the globe. Each year a new game is introduced, with this year’s being FIRST POWER UP. The challenge this season is to design a robot to pick up boxes, named “power cubes”, and place them on three scales, two close to the floor and one five feet in the air, for possession and at the end of a match, time is allocated to have robots climb one foot in the air for points. Students on 3314 expressed intrigue at the announcement of this year’s game. It was “strategically interesting”, one student stated, due to its use of a new power up system, where robots are rewarded by placing power cubes in a separate field location to unlock abilities such as double scoring or temporary scale possession.

With the new game, comes a new team. This year, 3314 saw a sharp increase in freshmen participation, especially considering the dismal one new member of the year before. These team members are valuable, often not for their initial ability, but instead for their potential and for their future role in continuing the legacy of the team, moving it further in FRC ranks and into the league of legendary teams such as the NASA endorsed 118, the Robonauts or the multiple world championship winner, 254, the Cheesy Poofs.

Junior programmers work with freshman

The season begins with six weeks of tight planning, modeling, building, wiring, and programming. These students worked from 4PM to 10PM, Monday to Friday, and 10AM to 10PM, Saturday and Sunday. These days are filled with critical thinking and design, and maintaining a schedule is difficult. In years passed, especially the 2017 season, the team was forced to stretch themselves thin, due to constant delays in building and perennial need for testing and redesigning. But this year, 3314 has been able to speed up the prototyping and modeling process allowing a “more efficient” build season. With a better system of construction, the Mustangs have even been able to build a second robot for testing and training methods. This second bot has provided valuable insight to freshmen who are learning to build and training to drivers when the main bot is being fixed or refurbished.

Everything on the final product is deliberate and serves a purpose for the game. An arm was fabricated to pick up power cubes and place them on the scales, hooks were added to climb at the end of a match, and a platform was added to be dropped so when the robot climbs, one other teammate may come with them. With each main mechanic, comes multiple days of planning, executing, and subsequent re-planning and remaking. All of it goes through phases, and nothing is final. Even in the following weeks of competition, in the few hours the team has to work with it before entering the game field, we see edits and tweaks. The robot is never finished, not until it is retired.

Mustang engineers at work

Schedules are ruined and grades drop, but at the end of the building, students sigh in relief and pride when their robot is functional. The drivers of 3314, Martin Ramirez and Filip Musial, state their favorite moment was the spark of life after weeks of building, when they see their mechanical masterpiece move.

Although the young engineers may wish to lay down their tools and make up their sleep and missed school work, this frantic build period is only half the season. The next six weeks provide the stage, and our local students become performers as their robot dashes its way across the field. Imagine the fierce bout now, six robots, three on each alliance, are laid out as our opening autonomous stage shows off the programmers work and give a deliberate start to the frenzy to follow. After the first fifteen seconds are up, drivers grip their controllers and dance across their field, moving to pick up power cubes to place into possession. The blue alliance takes the lead but suddenly red pulls ahead after three quick repossessions of the scales. The red robots find themselves falling behind again as blue ramps up its speed and places cubes faster and faster. As time winds down, drivers hear a bell, the match is about to end. In the last thirty seconds of a match, teams are given the opportunity to climb the five foot scale, which has a bar on either side, for extra points. Now, at the climax of our event, the six teams move speedily into position release their hooks and prepare to ascend.

3314 climbing with 222 on board

The Mechanical Mustangs have had an amazing first three weeks, appearing in the top eight at all competitions they have competed at in qualification rounds, a distinction that labels them as alliance captains in the following knockout bracket. During these knockout rounds, at all three events, Clifton’s team finds itself  blowing through quarters, and losing in semi finals. Despite this, team members remain optimistic, looking forward to their competition this weekend in Cleveland, Ohio.

Even in spite of their semi final curse, the Mechanical Mustangs have won two awards, an Innovation in Control Award, acquired for their use of a camera in traveling and placement of cubes, an ability programmed by junior Mustang, Murad Arslaner. The next award, given to them this past weekend, was the Excellence in Engineering Award, won for their forklift and climber, which was designed to carry not only the 120 pound robot, but one other, in case a teammate is unable to do so itself. Overall, 3314 has ranked among as one of the best currently performing teams in the Mid-Atlantic Region, claiming the twelfth spot of 125.

For those looking to join the team, off season is the perfect time. Once the world tournament has concluded at the end of April, 3314 will open up once more, prepared for an influx of hopefully excited and open minded students who want to excel in STEM. Although 3314 remains open to all, fresh teammates should be aware of a few things. Team captains warn, students should be familiar with Ms.Dituri, the teacher with whom they will be spending the most time with, and students must be ready to put in hours upon hours of work. If your friends do not join, prepare to spend days away from them as well. You should always be on your feet while working, being multifaceted is essential to success on the team, a pigeon holed perspective of your robot will only work to limit your abilities. Yet do not let these challenges deter you, “It’s like a second family,” says junior Emily Austin, “traveling and building is always enjoyable.” If you are interested in joining, stop by room C108 and talk to Ms.Dituri for more information.

The incredible robot 3314 has built has served them well so far, and Clifton hopes that with the talented drivers and crew they have, our homegrown STEM sensations will come out on top, at local events, regional events, and the illustrious world championship.

Watch 3314 play with MAR legends 225 TechFire! Watch out for 225’s two cube auto!