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Robotics Team Shines


Ranks in Top 20 Percent of World

The New Britain High School Robotics team ranked among the Top 20 percent in the recent World Skills Challenge. Over 5,000 teams are ranked and about 15,000 compete.

The competition is by VEX and there were three qualifiers to compete in the challenge.

Their robot which is called “Up is Open”, named after the controllers, can automatically run itself and pick up objects and throw them over a barrier. Then, it knocks down stars on the barrier.

“They start with nothing. They get a game manual and are told the game and rules and regulations,” said Teacher Shane Clark. “They analyze the game and figure out what it is about. Then they come up with a design. Then it is a matter of building, testing and rebuilding.”

The team started building the robot in May of 2016. The competition ran from September to March. The metal robot costs about $1,500 and took hundreds of hours to make.

“You play with other teams and get paired up. Because of the strong performance in driver skills, we were invited to regional competition,” said Joe Bechard, New Britain High School senior who designed the program. “A lot of robots that make it there are top notch and we got the ability to shine because we were paired with other teams who were at the same level as us.”

Bechard’s program was so good that the robot never lost the autonomous competition.

Stanley Tools and Polymer both sponsored the event. Stanley Tools gave the club $2,500 and needed tools such as a tool chest and a $1,500 3D printer.

“Whenever I gave them an idea with what I wanted to do they were all about it,” said Clark.

The club has 15-20 high school students and 10 get bused from HALS middle school. The class had 13 kids this year.

“This class is a lot different than any other class because of how hands-on it is. We are not just learning from books. This class combines everything,” said Simon Habib, a senior student who worked on the project. “We use a lot of physic equations to calculate things like how much weight the robot can handle. This class integrates everything we learned in school.”

In fact, he believes his success in robotics is a big reason a college he has applied to that has accepted him, has offered him a full scholarship.

“They know how competitive I am,” Habib said.

“Employers and colleges know the level you have to take to have a successful robotics team,” said Bechard. “There are hundreds of students interested in engineering, but not all have the drive to commit to something like this and take it from theory. New Britain is great for sports, but there is not a lot for students like us.”

Clark said he was looking forward to having more teams next year and maybe even an all girls team. But, he is moving to the middle school and someone else will take over.

“Schools that have more teams fare better because you get teamed up with somebody. At some point you choose a team mate,” said Clark. “Team mates choose each other and push out other teams.”

Competitive schools like Danbury, Bolton and Middletown have up to 4 teams.

“It’s difficult to get kids time to dedicate to it, but that is where the club does well as it gives kids an opportunity to build,” said Clark. “Some kids program and others build. Students who are really advanced can come in and do amazing things. Kids who are learning can start from the bottom.”

Superintendent Nancy Sarra said Clark’s move to HALS will ensure that students can get started in robotics at a younger age.

“Change is hard and change is scary. I have a vision of bringing the robotics program down to our middle school,” said Sarra. “We want to look at bringing it down to the Kindergarten level. We are working on that now. We have a hole in our middle school. Eighty percent that leave to go to a magnet school, leave before they enter the sixth grade.”

Sarra said her vision is to improve the quality of education for middle school students and that includes robotics.