After weeks of hard work, Port High PiraTech team puts the finishing touches on Hans WALL-E, makes final preparations for FIRST Robotics competition
It came down to the wire late Tuesday night.
Members of Port Washington High School’s Port PiraTech robotics team put down their tools and computers, stepped back and looked at their creation.
What was a box of parts six week ago is now Hans WALL-E.
Named after Dana Carvey’s Austrian body builder character in a long-running “Saturday Night Live” skit and a love-struck robot in the animated film “WALL-E,” the PiraTech robot is designed to throw and catch three-pound exercise balls in a complex competition that involves both working with and competing against other robots to score goals.
The test will come at the FIRST Robotics regional competition March 20 through 22 at the US Cellular Arena in Milwaukee.
The question is, after working three hours a night, four days a week, with some Friday night shifts and more than five-hour sessions every Saturday, does the PiraTech robot work?
“It will after tonight,” Daniel Gardner, the team’s co-captain, said at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“Building a robot from the ground up in six weeks is a lot of work, and the fact we lost a couple days didn’t help. It’s been a tough season because of the weather, but we are really motivated to get this done.”
The clock started ticking on Jan. 6, when this year’s FIRST Robotics challenge was issued to teams around the world.
Competitors receive a box of basic parts and can design custom pieces to create a robot specific to the challenge.
This year, robots had to be completed and bagged before midnight Wednesday, not to be touched again until the competition. Teams can take 45 pounds of parts to the contest to tweak their creations, but there is little time on game day to make substantial changes, Gardner said.
“We need to be ready to go by tonight,” he said.
With a year of experience under their belts, the 20 to 30 members of this year’s PiraTech team are far more organized than they were during their inaugural season, Gardner said.
“Last year, this was all new to us,” he said. “We have a better hierarchy this year and are far more organized.”
A robotics team operates a lot like a business. In addition to the technical aspects of designing and constructing a robot, team members are responsible for such tasks as fundraising — the basic parts provided by FIRST Robotics cost $4,000, Gardner said — and publicity.
But they’re not in it alone. PiraTech members are being guided by a corps of about 10 adult mentors, typically engineers, machinists and teachers who donate their time to nurture interest in the principles at the core of the robotics competition — science, technology, engineering and math.
The reward for the long hours of work, Gardner said, is the competition.
“Last year I didn’t know what to expect. It was amazing,” he said. “The place was electric, thriving with people just like us.
“It was like a sporting event — not a high school game but a college event. That’s how much energy there was.”
The ultimate goal of PiraTech, which won a Rookie Inspiration Award last year, is to advance to the national finals in spring, but members know there is more to competition than just the score.
FIRST Robotics preaches what they call gracious professionalism, a concept that encourages good sportsmanship and is rewarded during competitions. It’s an ideal that PiraTech members saw in action at last year’s competition.
“We needed a drill press, but who brings a drill press to a competition?” Gardner asked. “Sure enough, Appleton had a portable one and they let us use it.
“It was just an incredible experience.”
Image information: LOOKING CONFIDENT IN their creation, members of Port Washington High School’s PiraTech team gathered around their robot Tuesday night. Named Hans WALL-E, the robot is designed to throw and catch large balls like the one in the photo during this year’s FIRST Robotics compeition. Photo by Sam Arendt