Traip’s Robo Rangers Victorious

RoboticsRobotics team prepares for national contest.

photo by Deb Cram (visit her link)
February 25, 2014 2:00 AM

KITTERY, Maine — There was a lot of Traip pride, not to mention a real sense of satisfaction, when a team of students from Traip Academy recently took home the first-prize trophy at a prestigious state robotics championship.

Now they’re hoping to go to the national competition in California in April, and they’ve set their sights on raising the $6,000 necessary to get there.

The “Robo Rangers” and their partners from United Technologies Center in Bangor bested 28 other high school teams at a competition at Hampden Academy on Feb. 15.

“I was about 3 feet off the ground,” said senior Joe Lombardi, the primary mastermind behind the robot’s design, who will be attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s robotics engineering program in the fall.

“After a really tough basketball season, it was nice,” said junior Chris Bailey.

The team, which also includes seniors Sean Evans and Jacob Sisk, were all classmates in a robotics class taught by technology and engineering teacher Joseph Boudreau.

Boudreau and volunteers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard have worked for the past four years with students entering a separate competition, called FIRST Robotics. This is an after-school activity, and Boudreau offered the robotics class during the school day for those in sports or who had other after-school obligations and couldn’t be part of FIRST Robotics.

The entire class has been built around entering what is called the VEX Robotics competition. VEX Robotics, sponsored by the nonprofit Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, is held at the state, national and international level each year.

The competition is different each school year. This year’s contest involved a 10-foot by 10-foot playing field, with a tube at each end and a goal area. Robots had to be 18-inches square, and 18-inches high. Beach-ball and Wiffle-ball sized spheres had to be moved into the goal area. Extra points were earned for placing the smaller balls in the tube.

The competition is played with two teams, or “alliances” as they are called, four teams per match.

Although the students built their own robots, it was understood that the one built by Lombardi, a four-year veteran of FIRST Robotics, would be the one to go into competition.

He designed a robot that scooped up the small balls, raised them up in the air via a scissor lift, and dropped them into the tube.

“We did a lot of prototyping before we came up with this design,” Lombardi said.

A qualifying competition was held at the Augusta Civic Center in December, where the Robo Rangers placed second.

“After the first couple of matches, we realized we were doing pretty well,” Lombardi said.

“There was definitely a point where we knew we could get to the next level,” Bailey said.

The class made modifications to Lombardi’s robot in preparation for the state competition Feb. 15.

The students said they had come to know and trust the team from United Technologies Center, which chose the Traip team to create an “alliance” at the states.

“We had a lot of synergy. We were both very team oriented,” Lombardi said.

“We were fairly confident going into the finals that we would win, but you can never be sure,” said Sisk, who will be a mechanical engineering student at the University of Maine this fall.

The alliance toppled the No. 1-ranked alliance for the past several years, two teams from Cape Elizabeth High School.

“It was a lot of fun. It was one of the most fun things I’ve done in my life,” Sisk said.