Littleton’s robotics team is only just gearing up

Littleton’s FIRST Robotics Team Mechanical Advantage 6328 recently won two awards at the Granite State District Competition.

Littleton didn’t have a robotics team eight months ago. Now, the town has a team of award-winners.
Members of Littleton’s FIRST Robotics Team, named Mechanical Advantage 6328, recently competed in the Granite State District Competition in New Hampshire, finishing fifth of 39 teams and bringing home two awards – Highest Rookie Seed and Rookie All Star.

The competition was part of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people.
Teams from around the region met in the arena with robots they built themselves to accomplish a series of timed tasks, which included launching projectiles and driving around obstacles.
Littleton resident David Provost, president of Mechanical Advantage 6328, founded the team last summer, initially meeting with students weekly to build a practice robot.
“There are kids who are really gravitating to what we’re doing and they’re being exposed to some really sophisticated stuff, including software development,” said Provost.
Now Littleton’s team has grown to about 20 active members with 10 adult mentors – all working together to design, build, and code a competitive robot.
From concept to prototype
Provost first got the idea to start a robotics team in Littleton after volunteering at a Boston robotics event in 2009.
“As soon as I saw the level of sophistication, the fact that high school kids were doing the work, and when I saw just how intensely focused these kids were and how into it they were, I was like, ‘My god, this is going to be big,'” Provost said. “And it’s become increasingly big. It’s a global competition at this point.”  Conditions in Littleton were perfect for a STEM program too, according to Provost.
“The town itself has laid the groundwork for greater STEM engagement, more STEM offerings,” Provost said. “Between that and this intrinsic appetite the town seems to have for this stuff… things have just come together to bring us to the point where we are today.”
The Littleton robotics team spent the summer and fall seasons raising approximately $30,000 to buy the equipment, tools and parts needed to build its robot.
“We’re fully self-supported,” Provost said. “We have gone out to local businesses to ask them for grants and we have a number of significant sponsors.”
“We’re fully self-supported,” Provost said. “We have gone out to local businesses to ask them for grants and we have a number of significant sponsors.”
Programming for success
Mechanical Advantage team members meet regularly to hone their design and programming skills, conduct community outreach campaigns, and meet with other area FIRST teams and mentors.
“I rely on… a really committed core group of mentors with specific engineering knowledge… to teach the kids how to do those things,” said Provost. “That’s the other aspect of why this is a community-based effort.”
The team had less than seven weeks to strategize, design, build, and test a robot to be ready for competition in addition to writing proposals and award submissions and documenting the entire process, according to Provost.
David Provost’s son Brian Provost is a junior at Littleton High School and the team’s robot driver during competitions.
“I think what hooked me was how immersive FIRST was and how much I learned in such a short time,” Brian said. “You’re actually designing, planning, building, and testing something that eventually works. You don’t really get that out of a lot of other things that you can find at high school.”
Zac Temple is one of the team’s adult mentors. Temple was a part of his FIRST at Nashoba Regional High School and wanted to be involved with a rookie team when he connected with the Littleton team.
“It is a far more realistic view at engineering than I think a lot of kids have in their head,” Temple said.
Elliot Bonner, a freshman at the Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, is the team’s coder as well as the robot’s operator, controlling its functions and actions aside from driving.
“I think it’s good for the team in the future to do good at a first event like this because it helps get more people to join if we’re a good team and it’s desirable to be a part of it,” Bonner said.
Littleton High School sophomore Sreenidhi Chalimadugu had no prior experience with robotics before she joined the team.
“I was just really fascinated since the beginning with the whole design process and actually getting to build something on your own with a team,” Chalimadugu said.
The team’s students and mentors form a unique partnership that helps advance engineering knowledge for all involved, according to Temple.
“FIRST is not a program where you take a bunch of kids and show them how to make a robot and that’s that,” Temple said. “It’s a partnership.”
The future of Littleton robotics
Experience with robotics seems to matter more and more when it comes to the college acceptance process, added David Provost.
“Colleges increasingly care about kids with this experience,” David Provost said. “This is all about positioning them so they have firsthand experience doing this stuff.”
“I’m excited about the addition of a robotics club within our district,” Littleton Superintendent Kelly Clenchy said. “This offering allows students to develop skills through project based inquiry. Robotics also provides our students with an opportunity to develop skill sets in an industry that is developing at a local, national, and international level.”
With a host of tech companies around Littleton’s location at the intersection of Interstate 495 and Route 2, Littleton’s robotics team could be used to grow the town’s role in STEM, according to David Provost.
“I very much want to take advantage of our physical location to expand Littleton’s role in STEM, in robotics,” said David Provost. “We have a kernel here, but it’s a kernel we can build on.”
Mechanical Advantage 6328’s next competitive event will be the Southern New Hampshire District Competition at Bedford High School in Bedford, NH the weekend of March 24-26.
Follow reporter Alexander Silva on Twitter @IndieEagleWL.

 

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