Aluminum Falcons take awards in early competition

The Fitch High School Robotics team, the Aluminum Falcons, wracked up several awards at their first competition of the 2012 season, the Suffield Shakedown at Suffield High School, Feb. 18-19, against 30 teams from Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The Shakedown is the traditional pre-season event where teams participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition. (FIRST is "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.") It is an opportunity for teams to test their robots on a full-sized, official field.

Teams are given six weeks to design and build a 120-pound robot to accomplish the tasks outlined in the challenge, which changes annually.

This year's game requires the robot to shoot 8-inch basketballs through hoops placed at different heights. Games are played with six robots on the field, three "Red Alliance," and three "Blue Alliance."

The Aluminum Falcons robot, dubbed "The Fat Swan" because of its profile, was successful at scoring in all three phases of the game.

Each game begins with a 15-second "autonomous" period when robots are pre-programmed to score without remote control. Next is a 2-minute "tele-operated" period, when the students control robots to retrieve and shoot the basketballs.

The game ends with a 30-second finale when robots attempt to balance on a teetering ramp. Teams earn bonus points based on how many robots can balance on a single ramp.

In addition to individual awards, the Aluminum Falcons won "Best Autonomous Performance" and "Highest Score" when they teamed up with Suffield and Housatonic Valley.

Brian Chidley, the Falcons' coach and a physics teacher at Fitch, won the "The Dave Leenhouts Award," based on student nominations. The award recognizes one team mentor from all the participating teams for unusual vision and dedication. Chidley was cited for successfully taking Fitch from a small but eager team with less than 10 members to a successful team of more than 30 in only a few years.

Several local companies helped the Aluminum Falcons along the way, including Applied Physical Sciences, which became the team's principal sponsor this year. The sheet metal chassis was custom-fabricated for the team at the Hillery Company, also in Groton, from the designs drawn by students in the CAD application, Solidworks. Mentors from Electric Boat and other local industries also assisted.

The Aluminum Falcons will be compete in the New York Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Jacob Javits Center in New York March 17-18, and at the Northeast Utilities Connecticut Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford March 30-31. A win at either regional competition would qualify the team for the national championships in St. Louis in April.

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