Meet Ares Ballistics, a team of four Caldwell High School students who took a collection of metals, plastic, batteries, air chambers and rubber bands and fashioned a nearly 18-inch-tall robot that can scoot across the floor, hoist orange balls over a short fence and scoop up three-dimensional stars with ease.
Ares Ballistics’ robot has taken the team to the world robot competition to be held in Louisville, Ky., next month.
Their creation is the result of 120 hours of construction and countless hours of tweaking and practicing, hoping to make the machine a formidable competitor. It is the dream child of a team that shares a love of math, science and the way things work.
“All the things you learn in math and science are so cool, but being able to apply it is so much cooler,” said Matthew Murphy-Sweet, an 18-year-old senior and team member.
Caldwell High’s senior team received the Judges Excellence Award at an Idaho tournament in late February, qualifying the team for the world championships
Caldwell High’s team is one of seven from Idaho that will be attending the VEX Robotics World Championships presented by The Robotics Education Competition Foundation and sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Foundation April 19-25.
The Ares Ballistics team uses a large room that looks like a cross between a woodshop and a tech center located off Caldwell High School’s engineering class. Behind closet doors are thousands of pieces of metal and other objects for building a robot. In the middle of a room stands a large whiteboard covered with sketches and ideas — the place where students go to work out snags in development.
Each of these students has his own reason for being there.
Zach Shirado, 17, who hovers meticulously over their creation, said he is always looking to make something better.
“I’m not a big fan of taking what’s been given to me,” he said. “I like being able to make something exactly how I want it to be. You have some parts you start out with, but the robot you have at the end of the year is all you.”
Having as much drive practice as I do into this robot takes a lot of (pressure) off, because I know I am performing the best I can.
Zach Shirado, member of Caldwell High School’s senior robot team
Chris Lile, 16, a junior, is the robot’s programmer. His dedication is apparent in the shirt he wears: “That’s what I do. I Build Robots and I Know Things.” Besides keeping the robot’s program in top shape, Lile has programmed a sensor for gauging radiation pulses. That sensor will be mounted on a 4-inch-square cube satellite under development at Northwest Nazarene University, and that will be launched as part of a NASA mission in August.
“I love to program. At home I made some apps and worked on website development. I mess around with different programming languages,” he said.
Jorge Zazueta, 16, a junior, is on the team for the thrill of competition. “To me this is like a sport,” he said, “and winning is what you should be looking for.”
All of them spend at least three hours a day — including lunch — in the workshop honing their skills.
Brain power aside, actually getting to the tournament is a separate challenge. The four students must raise about $6,000 to cover costs.
They are getting help through the Caldwell School District, but raising enough money means going to businesses and even to homes if necessary. Many times the team takes the robot along to demonstrate its skills.
“That is a big seller,” Murphy-Sweet said. “When people see that, they are twice as likely to donate money to us.”
The Ares Ballistics team does its work under the supervision of Dennis Zattiero, Caldwell High’s engineering teacher. He takes a hands-off approach to the project, the students say. When they hit problems, he lets the crew figure them out.
“There is some serious problem-solving and engineering going on,” Zattiero said.
At one point, the students considered using gears to guide the robot’s arms. But that option proved to be too heavy. So they looked for another solution. Their answer: air pressure. They installed small air canisters that are much lighter.
The robot helped the team get to the championships, but it actually will stay home when the team travels to Kentucky. The Caldwell team is developing a second robot, faster and leaner, to take to the world championships.
By inventing, tinkering and reinventing, the students are learning for themselves some of the most important principles of scientific thinking.
“The biggest thing is the trial and error,” Murphy-Sweet said. “There is no sad part of failure. It is only getting better.”
Other teams from Idaho
▪ Madison Junior High School, Rexburg
▪ A Pocatello middle school team run by the Idaho State University robotics club.
▪ Wood River High School, Hailey
▪ Les Bois Junior High School Tech Ed, Boise
▪ Syringa Middle School, Caldwell
▪ Wood River Middle School, Hailey
Robotics challenge: How does it work?
In the world championship robotics, Ares Ballistics will be pitted against other teams and have to get as many objects over a short fence as possible, while the other team scoops the objects up and sends them back over the fence. The round lasts two minutes. Scoring depends heavily on the number of items one team has on the other team’s side at the end.
Competition coming to Boise
A dozen Idaho high school teams will compete with students from Western states and Canada in the FIRST Robot Competition at Taco Bell Arena March 30-April 1.
The event is free and open to the public. The competition, which has 35 teams, is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
Other competing states include California, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is holding its second competition in Idaho. The event is co-sponsored by Idaho STEM Action Center, Boise State University and Tesoro.
Want to help the robot builders?
To donate to the Caldwell High School robotics team’s trip to Louisville, send a check to CHS Robotics, Caldwell High School, 3401 S. Indiana Ave., Caldwell, 83605.