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Trumansburg Robotics Team Advances to the World Championships


The Trumansburg High School Robotics Team, FRC 5254, has qualified for the World Championships of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, which will take place from April 25-28 in Detroit.

As part of competition rules, the team has already shipped its competition robot, named “BakPak,” to Detroit. In the meantime, robotics team members are practicing on a prototype robot they built. They’re testing modifications they want to make on the competition robot when they get to Detroit.

A student works on the robot while others work on coding
How the Robotics Competition Works
The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) develops a new set of rules for the competition every year. High school teams are given six weeks to develop a robot that meets all the standards before those teams start to compete. Teams are allowed to work on developing some technologies during the month of January, prior to the six-week period.
This year’s game – FIrst Power Up – involves a two-minute thirty-second competition between alliances of three. It is meant to mimic a video game. The teams score points primarily by moving yellow cubes on the field into the goal posts (see video below for more details).

All the robots on the field have to compete for 30 seconds in autonomous mode and are controlled by students with the controller for the remaining two minutes.
In order to move the cubes into the various goal posts, the robot needs to push the cubes on the ground, lift the cubes about three feet off the ground and about seven feet in the air, and climb.
Students work on the robot’s lift mechanism
Fundraising Efforts
The Trumansburg robotics program is completely community-funded. The team held a Robo-Jam fundraiser and also created a GoFundMe page to raise money.
Roy Westwater, who teaches computer science at Ithaca College and was one of the founders of the program, estimates that they spend about $10,000 on the parts for the robot each year and another $10,000 on competition expenses and other fees.
They have already raised those funds, but now are focused on raising additional money for the World Championships. Westwater said that they spend nearly $20,000 on travel expenses and on the entrance fee to the World Championships.
A History of Making It To The World Championships
The Trumansburg robotics program was started in 2014. Westwater said the program was created to give students more opportunities in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“The robots are really just the platform,” he said. “We teach lots of engineering, lots of computer programming, project management, and I think that at the end of the day, those opportunities will carry these kids the furthest.”

FRC 5254 has gone to the World Championships three times in the past five years. Kathleen Hulle, a team leader, credits that to the workflow process they have developed.
After the rules of the game comes out, the team meets almost every day after school for several hours each week during the six week “crunch time.” When the team makes it to the World Championships, that collaboration continues for several more weeks.
“Managing school and [robotics] is pretty difficult because it’s only six weeks and you are building robots and we actually build two robots, which is twice the pressure,” she said.
Westwater said that the most important part of the program is the skills that the students are learning from it.
“The true measure of success is that we’ve grown from eight students to over twenty students and that our students are getting exposure to opportunities that they would never get inside a traditional learning environment.”
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