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Editor's note: The public is invited to watch portions of the statewide competition on Saturday, March 13, at http://go.uvm.edu/vtftc21, beginning with the opening ceremony at 12:30 p.m.

BENNINGTON — After meeting remotely as a group on Zoom since the fall, Bennington students involved in the younger First Tech robotics teams got together — in person — for the first time, to practice on-site in their small, robotics competition arena.

The Cookie Clickers, the younger of the two groups did test runs for the upcoming state-wide virtual competition. The team includes students Nolan Hunt, 12, Callam Jomaa, 12, and Erich Capella, 11, and coaches Chris Callahan, Karl Capella, and Jackie Kelley.

The group met at the Bennington Area Makerspace or BAM at 239 Main Street on Tuesday, March 9.

BAM’s second team is of high school age students at Hoosac School in Hoosick, N.Y. That team is coached by Ken Lorenz and Chris Callahan. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns, the second group did not meet with the group on Tuesday.

The two teams have been working exclusively together over Zoom since last year to design and build two functional robots to enter into virtual competitions around the state. The First Tech teams stressed “coopertition” — a healthy mix of cooperation and competition.

The robot would travel to different homes for each student to work on the construction individually with each student having a different task. For example Capella designed and built the robot often using a 3D printer to make the parts, while Hunt focused on the optics of the camera and navigation. Jomaa optimized the driving controls and movement of the robot.

As for the robot’s task, the students must be able to maneuver it to toss rings into a goal, and also to pick up a “wobble goal.”

The team did a lot of troubleshooting on Tuesday night and planned to do more Wednesday night.

The teams have until midnight tonight, Thursday, to submit their scores and videos of their robot. On Saturday, the state will review the scores and the teams will share their experiences remotely.

“Tough, exciting and rewarding,” Kelley said of the challenge.

As for challenges to the students, there were many that they were happy to accomplish.

For Capella, the greatest challenge and accomplishment was assembling the parts of the robot. Jomma’s greatest challenge was rebuilding the code because he couldn’t “copy and paste.” Hunt said his greatest challenge was, “not having a fatal error in the navigation code.

For all of the students, their biggest accomplishment was getting the robot to work.

Students and their coaches cheered and hollered as the robot tossed rings to its goal successfully and troubleshooted as they went along.

As for the students, they shared a goal — “being interested in robotics.” BAM launched the First Tech Robotics program for the Bennington area in fall 2020 with generous grant support from the First Foundation through the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS). The program has supplemented this funding with financial support from the Town of Bennington, BCIC and various local businesses.

Gillian Jones is a staff photographer for New England Newspapers. She can be reached at gjones@berkshireeagle.com.

staff photographer

is a staff photographer for the Bennington Banner and The Berkshire Eagle. She began her career in 1992 at The North Adams Transcript.


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