Fitch, New London Magnet kids are finely tuned machine as they win robotics competition

Groton - Robotics teams from Robert E. Fitch High School, New London Science and Technology Magnet High School and Westborough High School in Massachusetts teamed up last weekend to take first place at the 15th annual BattleCry@WPI in Worcester, Mass.

The students battled among 56 high school robotics teams from across New York and New England to finish on top.

"Putting the three of us together just created this team that no one could beat," said Janet Farquhar, biomedical science teacher and robotics coach for the STEM Whalers at the Science & Technology Magnet High School.

BattleCry is an offseason robotics event, separate from the FIRST Robotics Competition, which begins in winter and ends with the national competition in the spring.

At the event, robots built to work in teams of three had to move a large exercise ball down a gymnasium floor and eventually shoot it through a series of goals.

Teams were assigned by lottery at first, then based on performance as the games continued, with top finishers able to choose a second team as a partner. The third robot for each team was chosen randomly.

When Fitch and Westborough students heard that New London had been drawn from a hat as their third player, "a huge cheer went up from all three teams," Fitch High School Science Teacher Brian Chidley wrote in an email. Chidley is coach of the Fitch robotics team, the Aluminum Falcons, which has about 30 student members.

The three teams proved an ideal mix. The STEM Whalers had a robot with a tall, pivoting "claw," perfect for catching the 2-foot diameter game ball from the sidelines and getting it back into play.

The Aluminum Falcons of Fitch had a robot with a catapult launcher, which lobbed the ball into a 7-foot high goal with great accuracy. Meanwhile, the RedShift of Westborough, Mass., could launch the ball over a 6-foot high bar to earn bonus points. The alliance lost only one match throughout the elimination bracket, Chidley said.

But it wasn't easy, he said.

"It was a full-time job all weekend. It's the end of the season and the robots are falling apart," he said. "And between each match it was a constant laboring to get something fixed. Plastic was breaking, fuses were melting."

But Chidley said the team stayed on top of repairs. "We kept it working, in pretty much top form," he said.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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