Aug 22, 2023

North Catholic Trojans compete in robotics competition

CRANBERRY TWP — The North Catholic High School Trojans competed in what they hope will become an annual offseason robotics competition with other high school teams.

The event Saturday, June 3, drew teams from 16 other schools and was held to let students use the robots they built and designed from scratch one last time before the school year ends.

The competition is part of the "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," or FIRST, program that features robotic competitions from January through April every year, as well as other science and technology activities for younger students.

The Trojans participated in a competition last year that was hosted by Armstrong. That led to the school and the company collaborating to create Saturday's offseason event.

"So we said, let's see if we can build something into a yearly event," said Seth Prentics, Armstrong community marketing manager.

Dave Yackubosky, a North Catholic High School teacher, academic dean and lead mentor for the team, said he hopes the event draws 24 teams next year.

"We’re excited to do this, to make it sustainable," Yackubosky said. "We’re hoping to support the excitement of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and grow it."

The team builds a new robot every year using an automated CNC router and a water jet to cut pieces of metal and plastic into parts for its robot, he said.

In the 19 qualification matches held in the morning, teams formed alliances that competed against other three-team alliances.

About half of the Trojans’ 25 team members in grades nine through 12 took part in the contest.

Using remote control, each team directed its robot to pick up inflated plastic cubes and plastic cones. Teams then had to use the robots to place the cubes on small platforms and place the cones on poles in small enclosures. The clock stopped when one team picked up and placed all of its cubes and cones and parked and balanced its robot on a seesawing platform. The 15 teams with the fastest times moved on to the elimination round in the afternoon.

"It's like trying to pack a moving van," said Alex Palmieri, a freshman member of the Trojans.

The first few moves each robot makes are preprogrammed by the team and performed autonomously by the robots, Palmieri said.

Eric Zacherl, a junior on the team, said it took six weeks to build the robot. Some parts were made, and some were ordered. Team members installed all the wiring for the electronics, he said.

Elena Esposito, a freshman who serves as tech coach, said her main job is making sure team members communicate with each other. She developed the game plan for the contest and helped direct the robot driver to each cube and cone.

"Pretty smooth today," is how Gabe Felice, a sophomore team member, described the early qualification rounds.