LITTLETON — “Physics says this isn’t going to happen.”
The group of students huddled around a test robot they built during the summer, a square measuring roughly three feet by three feet with rows of wheels on two of the sides.
They looked in at the complex network of wires and circuitry and then up at Zac Temple, 21, one of their mentors. Their attempt to use the test robot’s wheels to launch a ball had not gone quite as planned.
“Well, we failed,” Temple said.
“Let’s eat!” the group’s other mentor, 21-year-old Deanna Clark, chimed in almost immediately.
Such is the curious, jovial attitude of Mechanical Advantage 6328, a robotics team formed in Littleton: failure is part of the process. The team of about 30 students was organized last summer by the Littleton Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Foundation. Earlier this month, they kicked off their first “season” in the FIRST Robotics Competition program.
For the competition, the team must build and program a robot from scratch that will go perform a variety of tasks, such as picking up gears and transporting them across the floor and launching wiffle balls into tall container.
The group is not an official school team, but they meet in a room at Littleton High School. During the six-week competition season, a rotating group of members gathers for at least four hours every single night. Temple and Clark, who were on FIRST teams during their high school and college years and now work full-time during the day, serve as mentors.
“This program absolutely changed my life,” Clark said. “It gave me confidence I didn’t have, let me challenge myself to do things I didn’t think I could do, it showed me that there is a spot for female engineers.”
David Provost, a Littleton resident and parent, began the work to start the group about a year and a half ago. Several other local schools have robotics clubs and nearby towns have teams that compete in FIRST, he said, but Littleton did not.
“I felt this could fill a vacuum in terms of attracting a different set of kids who might otherwise be attracted to athletics, might be confined only to academics or the arts,” Provost said. “This combines all of these things.”
Because the team is in what leaders call its “rookie season,” there is even more trial and error than is normal for a robotics contest. Other teams often have more test equipment, Temple said.
On Tuesday, Littleton’s group used an old pizza box to cushion a vice.
Despite those challenges, team members said they are excited to learn new skills that can help in future careers.
“I love it,” said Alexandra Shea, a Littleton High School senior. “It’s helped me see this is something I really want to do.”
Participation is not limited only to those interested in STEM fields. Provost, a financial adviser, said students with diverse backgrounds are encouraged to participate.
“FIRST is not limited to engineers by any means,” he said. “We don’t want just kids that are oriented toward engineering. We need kids that can help us create logos and designs for the team, that can help us with social media and the website, who can be photographers and videographers, who can speak to local sponsors.”
Senior Brendan Crowe said he plans to pursue economics and still has found plenty of ways to help with the project.
“There’s other ways to score points in (the competition) — your team has a business plan, and I’m helping write that,” he said. “Even if you aren’t doing the actual engineering stuff, you definitely feel like you’re contributing to the team.”
Littleton’s team will compete at a regional event from March 3 to 5.
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