BU Academy Wins Top Award at FIRST Regional Robotics Competition

ENG-Supported Team to Compete in FIRST Robotics World Championship

By Mark Dwortzan

The Boston University Academy team received FIRST's most prestigious honor, the Regional Chairman's Award.
The Boston University Academy team received FIRST's most prestigious honor, the Regional Chairman's Award.

Mentored by ENG Technology Innovation Scholars Oliver Kempf (AE'12) (top row, first from left), Bradley Berk (EE'13) (top row, third from left) and Anna Evans (EE'11) (middle row, first from left), Brighton High School won the Judge's Award.
Mentored by ENG Technology Innovation Scholars Oliver Kempf (AE'12) (top row, first from left), Bradley Berk (EE'13) (top row, third from left) and Anna Evans (EE'11) (middle row, first from left), Brighton High School won the Judge's Award.

Ambling along a 27’ by 54’ surface at Agganis Arena in a game called LOGO MOTION, robots built by more than 50 competing high school teams attempted to hang inflatable triangles, circles and squares on raised grids—as many and as high as they could in matches lasting little more than two minutes. Participating in this year’s Boston FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Regional Robotics Competition held April 7-9, the teams were judged not only for their robots’ performance in the Arena, but also for their own accomplishments as a team.

In that spirit, the Boston University Academy team—assisted for more than a decade by College of Engineering undergraduate mentors, lab space, machining equipment and financial support—received FIRST®’s most prestigious honor, the Regional Chairman’s Award. The award recognizes the team that best embodies the organization’s mission: to inspire greater respect for science and technology in our culture and encourage more young people to pursue careers in those fields. It also qualifies the team to participate in the FIRST® Championship in St. Louis in late April, where it will compete for the Championship Chairman's Award before a panel of international judges.

“The Chairman's Award means that [the BU Academy] team exemplifies all the very best characteristics of the philosophy of the FIRST® world,” said Steve Cremer, FIRST® Regional Director. “Due to the continued support of the BU community, this team has reached the height of success in FIRST®.”

Consisting of 31 students, The BU Academy team—also known as Overclocked—demonstrated “gracious professionalism,” extending help to their competitors during an intense build-season and regional competition, Gretchen Fougere, College of Engineering Assistant Dean for Outreach & Diversity, observed.

“Overclocked immediately agreed to make space and share their equipment with a rookie FIRST® team that the College began to support in January,” she said. “And during the competition, the BU Academy team provided on-site machining services to its competitors and hosted live feed of the action when the NASA van responsible for both activities was called back to Washington.”

The team’s outreach efforts to the Greater Boston community and dedication to spreading the message of FIRST® go back at least seven years, notes its coach, Gary Garber, a physics teacher at BU Academy. Students on the team have helped supply training and materials to many area FIRST® teams, worked in the College of Engineering U-Design summer camp and hosted LEGO and VEX robotics tournaments.

“Winning the Chairman’s Award is the culmination of many years of hard work,” said Garber. “The award is recognition for all of our outreach efforts to the surrounding community.”

Two Other ENG-Mentored Teams Net FIRST Awards
In addition to Overclocked, the College of Engineering supported seven high school FIRST® teams this year through its Technology Innovation Scholars (TIS) program, which seeks to inspire and mentor the next generation of Societal Engineers—innovators and leaders motivated to leverage their engineering foundation to address challenges that can improve the quality of life and create economic value throughout society.

Since January, the TIS program’s 15 ENG sophomores, juniors and seniors have mentored FIRST® Robotics teams in addition to giving presentations at schools in Greater Boston and in their home communities to excite K-12 students about engineering and its impact on the world. Meeting with FIRST® teams for about eight weeks, the TIS students shared their knowledge of the engineering design process, computer-aided design (CAD) and programming languages.

“The Technology Innovation Scholars encouraged the students to make decisions based on data, such as building CAD models and checking for good fits between parts,” said Fougere. “They helped teams create prototypes of their design ideas and were overwhelmed by the joy the students showed on their faces.”

Two of the seven TIS-mentored teams garnered additional awards at the Boston FIRST® Regional competition. Brighton High School’s Burning Tigers won the Judges Award, given to a team for its unique efforts, performance or dynamics. With this award, the judges acknowledged the Burning Tigers’ students—who represent a diverse mix of backgrounds (including homelessness), ages and skills—for bringing out the best in each other in their enthusiastic pursuit of engineering excellence. 

Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy’s team, the Eagles, won the Xerox-sponsored Creativity award, which celebrates creative design, use of a component, or a creative or unique strategy of play.  The judges noted the team’s use of virtual reality technology and a position-sensing helmet to afford a robot’s-eye view of the game-in-progress.

Engineering as the “New Cool”
This year’s competition consisted of three parts: an autonomous period in which each robot had to travel within a specified lane and pick up and place yellow inflatable pieces; a second period in which the robots were controlled by joysticks and had to pick up and place in the correct order the red, white and blue parts of the FIRST® logo; and a time for teams to direct a robot to get close to a platform and pole and deploy a mini-bot tasked to climb the pole quickly to the top.

“The Boston FIRST® Regional Robotics competition feels like a sporting event, with cheering crowds in the thousands; uniforms, flags, mascots and loud music; and announcers and flashing lights,” said Fougere. “If engineering is the ‘new cool,’ then placing well-rounded engineering students such as the Technology Innovation Scholars on more local FIRST® teams is a great way to help the teams design their robots and inspire them to consider engineering as a career path.”

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