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Skunkworks preps for upcoming competition season

Steampunk-themed game “First Steamworks” challenges team

By Timothy Wang

Skunkworks Robotics members Nick Tran and Lane Burke help to build the chassis of the team's robot.

Skunkworks Robotics members Nick Tran and Lane Burke help to build the chassis of the team’s robot.

With the first competition coming up at Auburn Mountainview High School on 4 Mar., the RAHS FIRST Robotics team, Skunkworks, is busy designing and programming their robot.

 

The game for the 2017 Competition, called First Steamworks, involves preparing an “airship” to launch, including providing “steam” to a “boiler.”

 

Senior Kaeden Wile is the team lead for the Skunkworks team and is in charge of overseeing the group as they try to build a robot to accomplish two major tasks.

 

“First of all, there [are] going to be wiffle balls, they call it ‘steam wiffle balls,’ all over the field,” said Wile, “and they’ll have hoops that are kind of high in the sky, ‘boilers,’ and we have to shoot those balls into the boilers.”

 

The team can gain additional points by adding gears to their “airship.” This aspect of the game involves a unique human element.

 

“We also can get gears,” said Wile. “This is the first year where there [are] actually people on the field, so they’re standing in the center, and we’ll take the gear from one end of the field down to the person in the middle, load it, and they put it on their ‘airship.’”

 

The robot can complete an additional task at the end of the game.

 

“At the end of the game, you can put a little rope down and [have the robot] climb that to get some extra points,” said Wile.

 

Before building their robot, the team learns about the game from the online First Steamworks Game Manual in order to understand the rules completely.

 

“In our process we start out and we look at the rules — we want to make sure we understand exactly what the game is, that we are not running under an errant assumption about what’s going on,” said Wile.

 

Next comes the brainstorming and designing phase where the team decides what they want their robot to do in order to maximize their score.

 

“Then we go into game strategy,” said Wile. “We want to know what the best robot’s going to do because we can’t do everything. Then we go into prototyping and try to figure out what kind of mechanism is best in order to complete the tasks.”

 

The team advisor and RAHS physics teacher Robert Steele emphasizes the need to multitask because the team only has six weeks to prepare for the competition season.

 

“We don’t wait until one thing is done to get something else done,” said Steele. “So the programmers who are all working on the things they know they need to control, and then the design group is working on design, and the electrical group is getting ready their electrical components, so we can get that all wired, so everybody works kind of parallel, and then we try to integrate things.”

 

One of their current projects is led by RAHS senior Benton Smith, who is the team lead of the design subgroup.

 

“My subteam is in charge of designing the robot in CAD and then building it in real life,” said Smith. “We have so far designed the majority of the robot and are working on cutting the parts out on our waterjet, then assembling them.”

 

With all of the subteams working together, Steele is confident in the team’s ability to build a successful robot.

 

“They’re right now in kind of a critical time to make things come together and I think we’re in pretty good shape, though we would always like to be further along than we are,” said Steele.

 

The team has also consistently achieved a Chairman Award every year for the past five years and Wile is hopeful that the team will maintain its high reputation and win yet another award this year.

 

“The one I’ve been working on is called the Chairman’s Award and that is given to the team that has the greatest measurable impact on the students [and] on the surrounding community,” said Wile, “and so Skunkworks in the Pacific Northwest is pretty well-known for that award.”

 

Skunkworks outreaches with their Business Outreach Program, hosts community events with lego kits, advocates legislators on FIRST Day, and hosts a Boys and Girls Club robotics competitions known as Smelly to grow their impact on their community.

 

Wile is proud to be a part of the Skunkworks team and to learn from its challenges and the mentors who come in to assist the team.
“It is really an awesome opportunity to learn not only from teachers but to learn from people who do this every day in their lives,” said Wile. “It’s a whole lot of fun and in the Pacific Northwest, of the whole region, there’s hundreds of teams, and Skunkworks is easily in the top three, if not number one.”

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