Berkley robotics team gets ready for new season

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published February 7, 2018

File photo

BERKLEY — Berkley High School’s FIRST Robotics team is starting to gear up for another season of competition.

As of now, the team, named Da Bears 247, is building its robot for its upcoming state competitions in a couple of months. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Before any official contests in Michigan, they’ll participate in what they referred to as a “scrimmage” March 2 in Ohio to practice and to test their robot in action.

“We can compete in that competition and we can basically practice with our robot without penalty to how we’re gonna compete in Michigan,” said Jason Wohlfarth, a science teacher at Berkley High School and a coach for the team. 

Wohlfarth said they are in the middle of their build to finish the robot from scratch, and their first Michigan competition will be held April 5-7 in Marysville.

Every year, the robotics season has a theme and teams have to build robots to complete whatever tasks are needed. The theme this year is video games.

“Our robot is essentially stuck in this arcade game, and we need to get out,” Wohlfarth said. “Our robot, this year, needs to take what’s referred to as these ‘gamecubes.’ Essentially, it’s a milk crate with fabric around it, and we need to be able to do several things with it.”

Wohlfarth said the playing field has two different “switches,” which are like levers, and they need to get the robot to pick up a cube and put it on the lever that’s designated for the team. They need to control the amount of time they have the lever tipped in their favor.

Ian Plamper, a junior at Berkley High, said there are many different subteams to the 23-person team, all focusing on different tasks, such as the machining, the building, the computer-aided design and programming in Java.

The 17-year-old Huntington Woods teen, who has been involved with the team since his freshman year and is a team captain, thinks the hardest part of participating in robotics is programming the robot to drive autonomously.

“You’re starting with nothing and you’re thrown a task, and in six weeks, you have to take that nothing and create something new that no one’s ever created before, and have it be able to track down some small light on the other end of the field using a small camera,” he said.

But what’s kept Plamper coming back to be a part of the team each year is the variety of what they’re able to do. He called robotics the “ultimate sport” because students have to relearn everything or do something new each year to compete.

“There are similar aspects to it. It’s all a team sport, but it’s completely new, because the theme and game changes every year,” he said.