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Walnut valley Unified School District

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STEAM POWERED

March 29, 2017                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

By Kelli Gile, Office of Community Resources

DIAMOND BAR, CA—Days before Diamond Bar High’s competitive robotics team goes into battle, Team Sprocket #3473 members are intently working after school making slight modifications on gear intakes, checking the electronic board, and going over the complex CAD designs.

The adventurous group of over 30 students is gearing up for a three-day Orange County regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) that kicks off on March 29 at the UC Irvine.

“We’re feeling pretty confident,” said senior Casey Chen, one of the team’s two passionate engineering captains. Chen coaches the primary drive team that handles all of the robot’s movement.

Earlier this month, Team Sprocket finished 9th out of 66 teams in a “neck-to-neck” race during the regional FRC tourney in San Diego.

“It was the best we ever performed,” said Chen who has been on the team since his freshman year.

“This is a really good bot!”

Better yet, it was the first time in the team’s history that Team Sprocket qualified to be an alliance captain, able to select the two other teams to play with during playoff matches, according to senior Cathy Chang, the team’s business captain.

“Our goal next weekend is to make it to the championship round!” she offered.

“FIRST is a really dynamic game. It changes throughout the season,” she added. “Our team is constantly working to make our robot the best.”

In this year’s Steamworks game, alliance teams vie to score points by shooting fluorescent yellow whiffle balls (the fuel) in the boiler to build steam pressure and delivering gears.

In the final seconds of each 2½-minute match, the robot is programmed to climb up a 4-foot- 10-inch rope to board the air ship for liftoff.

“It’s pretty hard to do! A lot of teams go up half way and die before they reach the top or the rope breaks,” explains senior Brian Song, the team’s engineering captain who heads up the secondary drive team and controls the robot’s arms and shooters.

“You hold your breath - the last 15 seconds makes or breaks the game!” he added.

“The cheering gets very loud!” Chen said about the hundreds of students who fill arenas during the exciting matches.

Sprocket had a really good design this year for climbing, said Song explaining that they used a tread (similar to Velcro) to grip the synthetic fibers on the rope.

The team has been preparing for competition season for nearly a year by raising funds, honing teamwork skills, and building and programming the nearly 100-pound robot. 

Professional mentors also volunteer their time and talents to guide teams in a “real world” engineering experience.

Teens become experts in each and every cog of the project that combines science and technology. They’ve even used a 3D printer for a few customized parts.

The team has two main focus areas, each with four sub teams: Engineering (CAD, electrical, programming, mechanical), and Business (public relations, finance, operations design).

“Most people only think of the robot, but there is so much business,” said junior Tanya Yang, the PR lead tasked with sponsorships, social media, and newsletters.

“It’s almost like running a small company.”

The team starts from scratch each year with a fundraising goal of nearly $30,000. Entry fees for the two regional tournaments alone total $9,000.

Sprocket began recruiting new members for this year’s team last April.

“Robotics doesn’t stop; we’re basically year-round,” Chen said.

During the summer, the experienced members taught the newbies about robotics basics, because experience isn’t required.

“You just need to work hard and be dedicated,” Song said.

In the fall, the team visited elementary schools to showcase their project and increase interest in STEM.

The build season began in early January and for six-weeks the teens focused on constructing and programming their dream robot.

FRC is a friendly competition that encourages students to scout alliance teams and share techniques in pit areas.

“Everyone’s really nice there. If you need help or a part, the announcer will ask for you,” Song said.

“We’re basically a bunch of high school students and best friends who are trying to build a robot that will work,” said Chen describing the group.

“We try really hard, but we are having a lot of fun!”

Shown:

DBHS Team Sprocket prepares for regionals beginning March 29 at the UC Irvine Bren Events Center. 

Members of DBHS Team Sprocket were eager to talk about their robotics program during Open House on March 16.

Team Sprocket’s drive team works on robot during regionals in San Diego in early March.