Published April 26, 2019
By GAIL LOWE
MELROSE — On Tuesday, April 23, four members of a robotics team from Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School left Melrose for Louisville, Ky. to compete in a World Championship after being named winner of the Southern New England Middle School Regional (robotics) Championship.
They are Adam Abdow, Adam Nagar, Liam Brown and Ronan Melville, all members of the iRaiders C-Bot team overseen by James Horn, who is also the overall catalyst for robotics in Melrose.
A company known as VEX Robotics, based in Texas, oversees championship and designs competitions that differ from year to year. VEX also creates the eco-system for all the teams and provides technology products to the teams and anyone building electro-mechanical systems.
According to the VEX Web site, the world faces an unprecedented need for new innovators, thinkers and problem solving leaders.
The VEX team (A, B and C) has three robots, and the iRaiders C-Bot team from the Middle School, is being accompanied by supporters, mentors and alumni.
Sylvain Lauzon has been VEX Lead Mentor while Jennifer-Hollister Lock and other parents have provided support, assistance and guidance to the students along the way.
Abdow and Nagar are lead mentors assisting the team while Maggie Abdow is leading fundraising efforts. Betsy Giovanardi, technology teacher at the middle school, is the teacher sponsor.
“This is the first time the team has participated in the World Championships,” Horn said. Other teams from Melrose (including an elementary school team) have participated in the World Championships in the past. In addition to the iRaiders C-Bot team, qualifying teams from around the world have also been in Kentucky to compete against other middle and high school teams.
The winners will receive as a prize the lifetime self-recognition and confidence gained from the knowledge that staying focused and passionate accomplishes world-class work. The top team received a large banner and trophy.
The iRaiders C-Bot team invented a robot they initially dubbed 2713C. Members tossed around a few names for their robot, including The Demon Baby and Kwajibbajingus, but decided to call it The Crab because it is low to the ground, and the slight protrusion on one side to fit the gear makes it look like a crab’s larger claw. It is the only robot with a V5 system and the last robot the team built.
Team members limited the robot’s function to move balls and flip disks but not stack disks on a post or flip a flag, said Horn.
“This was a strategic decision to focus on a few capabilities and then be very good at this,” he explained, adding that there is a sports analogy — not to try to be both a guard and a forward but instead focus on a specific skill set.
The Crab’s design is based on a simple chassis the team built for another robot that was later turned into a ball shooter.
“Its simplicity and effectiveness made us replicate it once we got a V5 system,” Horn said. “It can’t high-score caps or shoot balls, but it’s speedy, powerful and has been our most successful robot.”
Horn explained that a V5 system is the next generation platform system with a new controller, or computer. All robot programs receive platform changes, just like computers have evolved through a set of platform changes.
Horn said that the VEX “Crab” team has proven once again that when the right context is created students can be inspired in STEM and achieve world-class results.
“Four Melrose students surrounded by great mentors, incredible technology, the resources of the school with team collaboration and respect and a ton hard work made it to the world stage,” Horn commented. “This is not about a robot. It’s about facing a challenge and solving it with an electromechanical system in a fixed time frame, with a fixed budget and materials.”
He added that this is the exact same challenge faced by teams in the photo copier, automotive, industrial equipment, aerospace, space exploration, smart device and many other industries. Currently, there are not enough students choosing STEM-related paths to meet the global demand. The study of robotics inherently relates to all facets of STEM.
“When students learn through exploration, it increases motivation and the desire to succeed,” Horn said. “Through robotics, we are increasing the likelihood that students see a STEM-related career path in their future.”
In addition to learning valuable engineering skills, students gain life skills such as teamwork, perseverance, communication, collaboration, project management and critical thinking.
The program designed by VEX accepts any student who has an interest and places them in the right context where “amazing things can happen,” said Horn.
So far, that context has sent four Melrose teams to the World Champions, the 2018-2019 team being the latest.
The Melrose robotics teams are open to all students. After enrolling in the fall, members design and build robots and compete throughout the school year while adjustments and improvements are made to their robot. While the team’s strengths include programming, they also have a creative strategy for driving their robot on the field.
The iRaiders C-Bot team raised funds to defray associated travel costs. A fundraiser was held at Chipotle, Rte. 1, Saugus on Monday, April 22.
For more information about iRaiders, visit https://iraiders.org/home/about-the-iraiders/. The program is aimed toward anyone interested in science, math or engineering.