Robotics students reflect on their experiences and success
By Taylor Shillam
“This season has been very successful, on and off the field,” says Grace Hopkins, Bonners Ferry High School senior and member of the 2130 Alpha+ robotics team. Following their 17th season, Hopkins reflects on her team’s growth and success. With support from the school, the community, and dedicated mentors, Alpha+ has endured unique challenges and formed valuable connections.
The 2022-2023 robotics season was a busy one, from planning and workshops to the completion of their robot and embarking on competition season. “Before the season started, we ran workshops that were open to the community, to teach people about welding, 3-D design, programming, business and machining,” Grace says. “These open houses were very successful in preparing the new, young students on our team for the upcoming season.”
“After the season kickoff on January 7, we had to decide what we wanted the robot to do,” shares Kaylee McCabe, Alpha+ student representative. “This included determining answers to questions like ‘Where should we pick up game pieces from?’ and ‘Where do we want to place game pieces?’”
For this year’s competitions, the students were provided game pieces for their robot to work with: cones and inflatable cubes. The students designed the robot to have an arm with four points of movement, allowing versatility in pickup and placement of the game pieces at all levels.
Game pieces were placed in a grid on the playing field for the robot to navigate. The students designed the robot to use a rotating wrist and claw mechanism to pick up the pieces in any orientation. When not in play, the robot’s arm folded back into itself in order to be completely contained in its frame, Kaylee describes.
“For placing and picking up pieces, we also used a camera called a limelight, which is able to track the reflective tape on the posts of the grid and game pieces during autonomous mode,” Kaylee says. “We tracked the game pieces by having the limelight track a certain color and drive toward that color.”
Between designing, programming and building a functional robot, one of the biggest challenges the team faced was getting the parts they needed, according to Grace. “For companies that all FIRST teams use, these companies have a huge demand and sometimes aren’t able to keep up, so things we need come late, or not at all,” she says. Even still, for Grace, “the most memorable moments have been the competitions” and the unforgettable connections made.
“This year at the regional competition, we were chosen to be in an alliance with the two teams competing from China. Since leaving the regional competition, we have been able to continue the relationship with these teams through social media,” Grace says. “We got to exchange many items with them, so we can always remember the alliances and the regional competition experience.”
She adds that the team has “loads of support” from the community, with the majority of its donations and sponsorships coming from local businesses that have been supportive for years.
On April 4, Alpha+ had the opportunity to host the Bonners Ferry Rotary Club at their shop, where the team gave a presentation and demonstrated their robot. “At the end of the lunch, they presented us with a check donation. They have always shown such amazing support,” Grace says.
Alpha+ also uses its Open House event to connect with sponsors. “Our school district is very supportive in allowing us to use space in the middle school,” she says.
Alpha+ now has 13 team members, students in grades eight through 12 (four seniors, one junior, two freshmen and five eighth-grade students).
“Each senior is on a main subteam,” Grace shares. Kaylee leads design/build, Grace leads business, Thomas Hubbell leads programming, and Zach Callos leads electrical—and each has a responsibility to pass their knowledge on to the younger members.
The younger team members' roles are to learn as much as possible before senior members move on. Fortunately, they are also supported by a strong collection of mentors.
“Our core mentors are Mike Tymrak, Carrick Remaley, Lael Alexander and Joe Reed,” says Grace. “Mike has been on the team since it began, over 17 years ago, as a friend of the team founder, Ed Katz. Carrick got involved in 2007-2008 while working with Ed at the high school. Lael got involved five years ago when her daughter joined the team. And Joe, like Mike, has been with the team since its conception.”
The team saw a lot of success in its earliest years. With a “great group” of students and Katz as their science teacher, the early Alpha+ team went to Worlds competitions five times.
“When the pandemic hit, however, the size of the team also took a hit,” Grace says. Without the chance to compete, new members didn’t see any opportunity in joining the team.
Now, the current team works to advertise, recruit and restore the team from a challenging time. “Our hope is to build the team back up to what it was before COVID, and hopefully compete in Worlds again,” she adds, noting the youngest members currently on the team are “proving to be very promising for the future.”
This summer, Alpha+ will host its annual Robotics Summer Camp, open to upcoming fourth- through sixth-graders. To learn more, the community can keep in touch with Alpha+ through their Facebook page, FIRST Team 2130, and via email at email@example.com.