Schenectady County

Mohonasen’s robotics team heading to world championship this week

Geronimo 3 is always changing.
Mohonasen High School students Dan Litchmore, 17, left, and Marina Lanaro, 17, work on a lap top computer to adjust the programmed settings to the robot to the left with Gurpreet Chahal, 17, and Saffiyah Rafeick, 17, at Mohonasen High School Thursday.
Mohonasen High School students Dan Litchmore, 17, left, and Marina Lanaro, 17, work on a lap top computer to adjust the programmed settings to the robot to the left with Gurpreet Chahal, 17, and Saffiyah Rafeick, 17, at Mohonasen High School Thursday.

Geronimo 3 is always changing.

The robot designed and built by Mohonasen High School students has been through five FIRST Tech Challenge competitions since September, and after each one, it becomes faster, smarter and more reliable.

It’s the students’ constant efforts to improve the robot that their coach attributes to their success in qualifying for the FIRST World Championship set for Wednesday through Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. There they will compete against 125 teams from the United States and 18 other nations including China, India, Russia and Brazil.

“What these guys have done consistently, and I think this is one of the big reasons they’ve been so successful, is after every match and after every tournament that they go to, they learn what worked and what didn’t work and they fix what didn’t work, and they get ideas from other teams,” said coach George Reluzco, a technology teacher at the high school. “And they just keep improving over and over again, so the robot has actually never gone to two matches in exactly the same configuration.”

The eight students who make up the MohonBots spent their Easter recess last week working to make Geronimo 3 even more competitive. On Thursday, they gathered around a practice field set up in Reluzco’s classroom and marveled at just how fast the robot moved around the course.

Since the last competition, they had changed the gear ratio on the robot’s drive system from 1:1 to 2:3.

“It just means that the ratio of the gear on the motor to the gear that’s on the wheel itself is higher,” said Laura Treers, the team’s captain and a senior at Mohonasen. “So it’s less torque, but more speed is going to each wheel.”

The robot is a combination of aluminum struts, electric motors and wheels, and includes an aluminum lift outfitted with zip ties, duct tape and a non-slip pad that spins in order to scoop up blocks during the competition. It’s also equipped with a “brain” straight from a Lego Mindstorms kit.

During one part of the competition, two students use remote controls to make the robot place as many blocks into baskets as possible in two minutes and also climb a ramp, do a pullup and raise a flag as competing teams’ robots do the same.

On Thursday, Treers controlled the robot’s “hand and arm” as Gurpreet Chahal, 17, drove the robot around the course and made the spinners spin.

During the autonomous portion of the competition, the robot, which is programmed by senior Saffiyah Rafieck, has 30 seconds to use its sensors to place a block into a box and drive to the top of the two-sided ramp.

Geronimo 3 didn’t need 30 seconds to compete the two tricks Thursday.

The students qualified for the international competition by winning six of eight matches in their division earlier this month during the East Super-Regional competition in York, Pa., in which 72 teams competed. With 3,236 teams entering the yearlong competition and only 125 advancing all the way to St. Louis, the MohonBots are among the top 4 percent of teams, one of 25 teams from the eastern region and one of only three teams from New York to make it this far.

“We’re all absolutely thrilled to be able to go to worlds,” said Treers, 17. “It’s the first time our team has ever made it this far, and it’s just such an honor to be able to represent our school at this large scale.”

Taking part in the competition comes with enrollment in Reluzco’s engineering, design and development class.

“It’s definitely all of our favorite classes,” Treers said.

The competition requires more than a fine-tuned robot and a lot of teamwork, as the students are also judged on sportsmanship, community outreach and how well they document their work.

“That’s one of the key aspects of the FIRST competition, is to outreach to future generations to let people know about STEM, because STEM is really our future,” said sophomore Kunika Chahala, 16, using the acronym for “science, technology, engineering and math.”

“If you think about it, robots and engineering, those are going to be the key aspects of our future as we keep advancing technologically.”

Chahala and senior Marina Lanaro showed off a poster highlighting the evolution of their robot and leafed through the pages of a composition notebook bursting with notes and pictures.

One of the pages showed them talking to a group of Draper Middle School students about the FIRST program last week.

“I asked them, ‘Who wants to be an engineer when they’re older?’ Every single one of them raised their hand,” said Lanaro, 17.

As the students engage younger generations in robotics, their own interest in the STEM fields continues to grow.

Treers, who was accepted into MIT, Northeastern University and Clarkson University among other schools, wants to pursue mechanical and electrical engineering and eventually work with robotic systems.

“Robotics definitely gave me a focus for what I wanted to study,” she said.

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