Concord FIRST Tech Challenge team to compete at regional competition

  • The R.O.U.S. Concord community team recently secured a spot at the FIRST Tech Challenge Super-Regional Championship in Scranton, Pa., after succeeding at the state-level competition last weekend. (From left) Sonya DeLorie, Tyler Aubin, Madeleine Boyer, Connor Blais and Sarah Haynes are pictured. Courtesy of Tina Degiso

  • A close up of the FIRST Tech Challenge Team 9620 R.O.U.S.’s robot. Caitlin Andrews

  • Tyler Aubin (left) and Sonya DeLorie compete in the state competition on Feb. 18. Team R.O.U.S. has qualified to compete in the East Super-Regional Championship Tournament at the end of the month. Courtesy of Tina Degiso

Monitor staff
Friday, March 03, 2017

While most students value school vacation for the down time, the members of Team R.O.U.S. (Robots of Unusual Size) spent last week crunching numbers and running diagnostics on a robot.

The FIRST Tech Challenge Concord community team has just six members from surrounding towns, but their small size didn’t stop them from winning first place with their alliance partner, Gluten Free of Hollis. The team also won the Motivate Award at the state competition on Feb. 18.

To be the best, team members had to work together to complete the competition’s challenge of shooting wiffle balls into goals, knocking a ball off a platform and raising a ball to the top of a goal post.

Now, team members must gear up for a bigger challenge: Competing in the program’s regional championships in Scranton, Pa., in two weeks. Should they succeed, they’ll have a shot at global glory at the world championships in April.

Tech Challenge is a bit different from the FIRST Robotics Competition, the program’s bigger, better-known sibling. Tech Challenge is open to seventh-graders and older, while FIRST Robotics is limited to high school students. Tech Challenge is also seen as more accessible, said FIRST spokeswoman Haley Dunn, since teams are not constrained to the same six-week building period as FIRST Robotics. Size matters, too. Tech Challenge robots usually weigh under 40 pounds, whereas FIRST Robotics machines can weigh over 100 pounds.

The state has 20 Tech Challenge teams, less than half the amount of teams involved in FIRST Robotics. Concord alone has five robotics teams, but the closest neighboring Tech Challenge teams are in Tilton and Manchester, according to FIRST’s website.

Not having an affiliation with a school can present logistical challenges, said Sonya DeLorie of Bow.
   “We all have different schedules, and when you’re in the same school you can meet right after school or during school,” she said. “We didn’t have that, so we had to be really wise about when we met and managed our time.”

But Madeline Boyer of Chichester said the sometimes fractured scheduling ended up making the team stronger.
   “It made us really well-rounded,” she said. “If someone can’t make it, everyone knows how to do everything on that robot, so we could keep going.”

And while winning the state competition was the result of spending long hours in the space above teammate Tyler Aubin’s garage in Concord since September, their second achievement, the Motivate Award, was the result of putting time into community outreach. Sarah Haynes of Weare said in addition to demonstrating the robot at schools, the team has also mentored local FIRST Lego League teams as well as a fledging FIRST Robotics team.

Between the outreach efforts, finishing the robot and the daily grind of school, R.O.U.S. hasn’t had time for much else. But the rewards outweigh the costs, DeLorie said.

“A big part of this is reaching out to younger students,” she said. “... High school is a lot of pressure – there’s this drive to be No. 1, but FIRST is all about competing together and supporting each other. We want to show them this side of high school.”

Other members of the team include Connor Blais of Hopkinton and Abigail Pope of Concord. Mentors and chaperones to the team include Nacny Boyer, Gina Aubin, Gary Blais, Brian Boyer and Malcolm Strickland.