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Herndon High Robotics Team to Participate in ‘Aerial Assist’ Challenge

Samuel Chanesman explains the FIRST program to the audience at Herndon High School. (Photo credit: Melissa Jonas)
Samuel Chanesman explains the FIRST program to the audience at Herndon High School. (Photo credit: Melissa Jonas)

On Saturday, Team 116—Epsilon Delta, Herndon High School’s robotics team—held its annual kickoff event and breakfast to introduce the team to the local community, and to find out just what is in store for them this year, for their annual challenge.

Team 116 is Herndon’s chapter of FIRST, a nonprofit association that stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

At the kickoff, the members of FIRST introduced themselves and explained to those in the audience that their team aims to have a positive relationship with the community at large, and spread the word about FIRST to increase awareness about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and the program in general. 

For example, every year, the team goes to the Herndon Festival to showcase their robots and allow kids to play with them.

“While the kids play with the robots, we talk to their parents about local robotics teams and how they can get involved,” said Samuel Chanesman, the team’s captain of outreach and awards.  “Our motto is, ‘come for the pizza, stay for the robots!’”

Each year, Epsilon Delta competes in FIRST’s nationwide annual robotics challenge, known as the FRC, in which FIRST challenges chapters across the country to build a project according to the year’s theme.

At Saturday’s kickoff, the team discovered it, and thousands of other teams across the country, would be competing in FRC’s “Aerial Assist” challenge.

Aerial Assist is a lot like basketball, but with robots. Students have to create a series of robots designed to assist each other in moving balls down a 25-by-54-foot field into low-placed square goals and high-placed rectangular goals. The robots are controlled behind walls at each end of the field. 

The field is divided into three zones—blue on one end, white in the middle, and red on the other end. There is also a truss in the middle of the field, which robots can move their balls over to accrue more points.

The more the robots assist each other in getting the balls into the goals, the higher the score. An additional robot is also at each goalie zone to block shots.

Spencer Allain, a Boeing software engineer who serves as a mentor to the robotics team, says this year’s challenge is a lot different than it has been in most years because there will be fewer things to focus on, in terms of construction.

However, there will be a lot to focus on in terms of strategy.

“I think all of our focus is going to be on playing defense and attempting to pass the balls around as much as possible,” Allain said.

“This year, it’s a pretty simple game, but a lot of the rules and score are quite overcomplicated,” added team member Danny Vedova. “In previous years, some robots might help carry a team, but this year is going to be much more focused on cooperation and working together.” 

After kickoff, Epsilon Delta will soon begin its intense, six-week building period. According to Allain, this period teaches the kids a lot of valuable lessons.

“The first thing they get out of the program is [learning] hard deadlines. For some of them, that’s kind of a new thing,” Allain said.

Herndon Town Councilmember Melissa Jonas said being in the FIRST program will also teach kids leadership and communication skills necessary for a 21st-century workforce. Jonas was in attendance at the kickoff, and said she was very impressed.

 “I’m so proud of all the things we’re doing here in Herndon to advance STEM education,” said Jonas, a member of the first graduating class at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. “I think it’s an amazing program that’s a hidden gem we have here in Herndon High School.”

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