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MercerMe is excited to feature a series of articles written by Hopewell Valley Central High School students, originally published in the Bulldog Reporter.

HVCHS has football, soccer, basketball, and robotics. Yes, robotics.

Fifteen years ago, CHS Robotics Team 293 was founded to immerse students in the fields of science and engineering. Meeting on a weekly basis in a repurposed classroom near the old gym, students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) collaborate together designing machinery and competing in tournaments nationwide. If you’ve had an opportunity to walk by the robotics room, newly refurbished by HVRSD and rechristened the CHS STEM Classroom, you’ll find many students hard at work. Projects are always interesting. For example, several years ago, the Hopewell Township Police Department commissioned students to create a moving target robot. This year, the team created a fully functioning, motorized crossbow.

However, the innovation goes beyond tinkering. Each year, CHS students in robotics join clubs across the country in a competition of ingenuity, coordinated by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a national STEM education organization. This national robotics tournament requires teams to design and construct a robot within six-weeks, and their machine must complete several challenges such as shooting basketballs or throwing frisbees. Last year, our entry threw a large ball into an 11-foot goal. This robot exhibited at the 2014 Hopewell Harvest Fair and won the club substantial funds for this year’s design and construction work.

There are a variety of jobs designing and constructing robots within Hopewell’s Team 293, ranging from fabrication work to electronics and programming, and even fundraising and outreach. As a student-run organization, all the programming, designing, and even machining is done in-house to form a fully functional robot of aluminum and carbon fiber. Robotics members are proud of their work and are working hard in preparation for their first match of the season in March.

The robotics team has already created a prototype robot for this year’s system. The prototype machine is a “mechanized drive train” allows for students to test their engineering ideas. Motors, mechanisms and other mechanical features can be added or removed and tested in the context of the existing design. The prototype also moves under its own power, accelerates and sharply oscillates to simulate programmed robotic moves.

IMG_2266Most recently, the shop also engineered the prototype to stack objects into 10-foot piles. This is in response to changes since last year’s FIRST competition that complicate this year’s challenges for scoring points.  The 2015 competition is called “Recycle Rush,” in an attempt to promote positive science and environmental initiatives such as recycling. Two teams of three robots must compete to stack tote bags across a field, and top each bag with recycling bins and pool noodles The higher the stacks, the more points scored.

This year’s challenge is significantly more difficult than past years. However, CHS robotics anticipated it would be different. In a pre-competition video, Frank Merrick, director of FIRST grabbed an old competition manual and tossed it into a recycling can. Students heard Merrick announce that, “change was coming” to promote less aggression between school teams and more friendly match ups. The new competition rules added difficulty to the challenge, but also allure to the STEM engineering and design.

Team 293 won’t be competing for another month, so it’s hard to predict their outlook. It’s also hard to predict whether the tournament will change.  The rulebook is still in flux with ongoing updates and changes.

At this point, CHS can be certain of only one thing: its team will be ready to meet the challenge.

By Veena Prakriya and Grady Meyer

Veena Prakriya and Grady Meyer are both 11th grade students at Hopewell Valley Central High School and a contributing writers for the CHS Newspaper, the Bulldog Reporter.

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