For the second time in three years, local Melbourne robotics team “Voltage” will be attending the FIRST Championship Houston competition in Texas.
The robotics season officially began in January and after their six-week building period, the robots competed with other Florida teams at the UCF stadium to start the year.
The teams are hosted at high schools around the area, and the closest one to campus is the Voltage team.
Florida Tech has its own Vex robotics team, which differs from FCH in size and other aspects.
Ripley Smith, a current Florida Tech student, and Will Davies, a Florida Tech alumni, both mentor the local high school team and have been in robotics for a long time.
“There are a literally thousands of schools across America that participate in FCH and Vex, but I prefer FCH because there is more you can do and bigger scale parts that use industry systems in the real world,” Davies said.
The robotics high school program allows mentors from any background that have helpful engineering knowledge and have no age restrictions.
Davies has been doing robotics since 2006 and he mentored the Voltage team during his entire time enrolled at Florida Tech and afterward staying in Melbourne.
“Robotics has programs such as FTC, First Tech Challenge, and FLL, First Lego League, that potentially could have somebody doing robotics from grade school past college,” Davies said.
Smith discovered Voltage while still living in Georgia competing for robotics during high school, and she has been involved since 2005.
Smith said, “Robotics is definitely a big part of my life since I’ve been doing it so long, and finding Voltage persuaded me to come to Florida Tech.”
Smith is currently president of the First Robotics Club here at Florida Tech.
While the club currently consists of only a couple members, Smith said emails are being exchanged with more students that are interested.
Florida Tech also has a FIRST scholarship for inspiring and recognition in science and technology, which Smith won through her robotics team in Atlanta.
Smith is working to bring FCH robotics to Florida Tech.
“It is also a great opportunity for collaboration and integrating communities,” Smith said. “There were some schools in Orlando that needed help finishing their robot in time, which we gladly provided.”
Davies said, “I’m excited. This year we upgraded with brush-less motors that are faster and stronger and lidar sensors for better visual processing.”
The first 15 seconds of competition are automated. Then, the remaining two minutes are spent controlling the robot on the course to collect as many points as possible by completing tasks.
Kevben Belastegui, a junior in mechanical engineering, competes on a team called Moose 1065.
“I could have went and joined Voltage, but in my opinion, I think Moose is handled and driven more by their mentors rather than helping the students and letting them run the team,” Belastegui said. “So it is more fun for me on Moose.”
FCH has programs available for mentors and students in schools’ extracurricular programs globally.
The season goes until May when they have their finals in Houston and about 5,000 students of teams from all over the world will be displaying their robots for the final point tally.
At each region, there are around 60 teams, which is about the number of teams that were at UCF.
Florida is a regional state as opposed to a district state such as Georgia and countries like Australia.
For district states, winning a district will earn a ticket to Championship Houston but for regional states, it is a bit more difficult as they typically have fewer number teams attending and have other contests to win to make it to Championship Houston, more than just point total.
According to Smith, the Chairman’s award is the most prestigious. “The award goes to the team that impacts robotics the most outside of the competition, so one year the team that won it hosted a drone competition that was set up for their community”.
Smith hopes to integrate the robotics community with Florida Tech further in the future and Alumni such as Will Davies and Daniel Kemp successfully represent the Florida Tech with their help mentoring the team, and mentoring a team is as easy as being passionate for robotics.
“People such as Lonnie Johnson, who owns the patents for nerf guns and super soakers, and Dean Kamen, who owns patent for the segway, attend worlds consistently and appear at competitions all the time,” said Smith.
“Our success is well celebrated and we’re all happy to go to [Championship Houston], but there was a lot of success in our whole area which we work with, so there is a lot to be glad about,” said Davis.