Upper School Robotics Teams Push the Innovation Envelope

In the past 10 years, Upper School Robotics has trailblazed its own thriving cultural scene at D-E. Now with three official teams, the extracurricular program only continues to grow. Coached by Chris Fleisch, the teams have been able to compete in state and regional competitions, including the World Championships in 2017. Before becoming the coach, Chris taught the Middle School Physical Computing course. He continues to coach on top of his role as the Systems Administrator.

“I would compare our robotics competitions to track meets,” Chris explained, “It’s a whole convention experience. From September to November, the kids are designing and building their robots. We have one meet per month, and what we bring to our first meet is going to look almost nothing like the robot the kids bring to the state tournament in March.”

Multiple iterations of a robot are encouraged, if not required in the robotics world. All competitions are hosted by FTC (First Tech Challenge), an organization that promotes robotics and STEM to students across the globe. Many D-E students start with little-to-no experience in making a robot, let alone participating in competitions. Nevertheless, students surprise themselves with their ability to grow and learn from their peers. Out of the three teams, Upper School students new to robotics join “Quantum Smashers” to begin their journey. As students acquire more experience, students can graduate to the junior varsity and varsity teams, “Absolute Zero” and “Critical Mass” respectively.

Bodhi Mathur ’23 began robotics in the Middle School in their First Lego League, the robotics league for middle school students under FTC. Now a member of Absolute Zero, Bodhi reflects on how she’s grown since then,

“I’m much more confident honestly. It’s that self advocacy that I don’t know where else it would have come from then being in a place like. has become a passion of mine. I was thinking, ‘ok, if you want a place here, and you want to know if you can do it, you have to advocate for yourself and for what you can do.’ ”

As another season comes to a close, the robotics teams can pat themselves on the back for their hard work. During the qualification rounds in March, all three teams ranked in the top five out of 23 teams in their league;  Critical Mass placed first, Absolute Zero second, and Quantum Smashers came in fifth. Moreover, Critical Mass won the FTC Innovate Award and received 3rd place for the FTC Inspire Award, while Absolute Zero won the Think Award. (See below for the award descriptions.) By the season’s end, Critical Mass and Absolute Zero had both qualified for the NJ State Championship meet, and Critical Mass ultimately made it to the semi-finals round. 

Cheers to another season of designing, testing, failing, and trying again. Go, Bulldog ‘Bots! 

THE FTC INNOVATE AWARD:

The Innovate Award celebrates a team that thinks outside the box and has the ingenuity, creativity, and inventiveness to make their designs come to life. This judged award is given to the team that has the most innovative and creative robot design solution to any specific components in the FIRST Tech Challenge game. Elements of this award include elegant design, robustness, and ‘out of the box’ thinking related to design.

THE FTC INSPIRE AWARD:

This judged award is given to the team that best embodies the ‘challenge’ of the FIRST Tech Challenge program. The team that receives this award is a strong ambassador for FIRST programs and a role model FIRST team. This team is a top contender for many other judged awards and is a gracious competitor. The Inspire Award winner is an inspiration to other teams, acting with Gracious Professionalism both on and off the playing field. This team shares their experiences, enthusiasm and knowledge with other teams, sponsors, their community, and the judges. Working as a unit, this team will have shown success in performing the task of designing and building a robot.

THE FTC THINK AWARD:

Removing engineering obstacles through creative thinking. This judged award is given to the team that best reflects the journey the team took as they experienced the engineering design process during the build season.  This includes descriptions of the underlying science and mathematics of the robot design and game strategies, the designs, redesigns, successes, and opportunities for improvement.