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Clarkson’s FIRST Robototics team headed to nationals


POTSDAM - Amanda Clapper ’14 grew up playing sports and has been in competitions of all kinds, including soccer games and swimming matches.

None of it compares to the intensity of a FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), according to Clapper, an environmental engineering major and robotics team leader.

“The kids who are at these events have more energy and are more excited to be there than kids I’ve seen at sporting events. No matter what, it’s a bunch of fun,” Clapper, an environmental engineering major, said. “It’s always a standing ovation when someone wins something.”

One of the two FIRST teams sponsored by Clarkson, Team 4124, was a regional winner at the BAE Systems/Granite State Regional in Manchester, N.H., on March 2 and will advance to The FRC Championship in St. Louis, Mo., in April.

A team of 25 Clarkson undergraduates serve as mentors for approximately 50 high school students from the Salmon River and Massena central school districts as they design, build, program, test and prepare a human-sized robot for competition over the course of six weeks.

This year’s FIRST Robotics Competition game, “Ultimate Ascent,” involved robots competing in alliances of three-on- three on a 27-by-54-foot field over two days of qualifying and elimination matches. The goal was for each robot trio to shoot as many Frisbees as possible into their scoring zones within two minutes and 15 seconds; 45 teams from across the U.S. and Canada competed at the Manchester Regional.

The robots had to navigate through the opposing alliance, which would attempt to block their Frisbee shots. The competition includes an “autonomous” period where the robots are programmed to score on their own and a “teleoperator” period where the robots are controlled remotely by the high school students.

“Many things are happening in real time,” said Team Advisor and Clarkson University Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering James J. Carroll. “A lot of quick decisions have to be made in coordination with your alliance partners in order to successfully play the game.”

Clarkson’s other FIRST team, Team 229, made it to the quarterfinal round at Manchester. That team will have another chance to win at the Boston Regional later this month and could also advance to the Championship Event in St. Louis.

“Win or lose, the resulting experience is invaluable for exposing high school students to exciting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts while developing a strong sense of civic responsibility and leadership skills among Clarkson student mentors,” said Carroll. He also credits Massena and Salmon River robotics team coaches Steve Robert and Darcie Fregoe for their active participation in the program as a major factor in the teams’ success.

Libby Kamen ’13, a former team leader, said the FIRST experience doesn’t just expose high school students to the STEM disciplines. It also opens them to the possibilities of life and education after high school. Massena and Salmon River students have many opportunities to experience the Clarkson campus during their time on the FIRST team.

“We’re able to teach them about engineering and teamwork,” Kamen said. “But we’re also able to show them that a college education is something they can obtain and aspire to.”

Clarkson’s FIRST Robotics teams are part of the SPEED (Student Projects for Engineering Experience & Design) program, one of the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering hallmark initiatives, exemplifying Clarkson’s “defy convention” approach to education.

SPEED promotes multidisciplinary, project-based learning opportunities for more than 350 undergraduates annually. Projects involve engineering design, analysis, and fabrication. In addition, students learn real-world business skills, such as budget management, effective teamwork, and communications skills.

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