BERLIN — The Worcester County Beach Bots robotics club capped off its second season by landing one of the most prestigious coaching awards, some fresh volunteers and and a generous $3,000 donation from a local resident.
On Wednesday morning, the club visited the Ocean Pines Community Center to demonstrate its robot, nicknamed “Nemo,” to members of the Greater Ocean City-Ocean Pines Kiwanis Club. Safety was a major concern for the Kiwanis, with several members asking about the protocol around building and operating Nemo.
“We go through the full safety instruction with all [members],” promised Beach Bot Safety Chief Gary Qian.
As student safety chief, Qian explained that he made sure that all standards and operating procedures were met whenever the robotics club worked with the machines. This can include everything from wearing goggles or hardhats to knowing how to use a fire extinguisher. The bots are also carefully built to minimize the chances for accidents, said Qian.
“Every single sharp edge on the robot is filed down … we do a lot on and around the robot to prevent any accidents from happening,” he said.
The Beach Bots took Nemo, a disc-slinging automaton, to a regional tournament in Baltimore in April. Though they only finished in the middle of the pack, the team was impressed with the performance and design of Nemo, with Coach Michele Kosin stating that it has clearly improved since last year’s model.
“I think technically the robot was much better and more advanced than last year,” she said. “I think our students are definitely more confident than last year and they mentored a lot of other teams.”
This was the first year for the county’s Lego League team, which was mentored by the high school students who make up the Beach Bots. That team went on to win several competitions over the year.
They were not the only ones receiving accolades, however, with Kosin winning the prestigious regional Woodie Flowers award this year.
Given to mentors who are nominated by their students, the award only goes to those who have shown extraordinary guidance to their teams and sparked greater interest in robotics and engineering.
“The award recognizes an individual who has done an outstanding job of motivation through communication while also challenging the students to be clear and succinct in recognizing the value of communication,” read the official award criteria. “As such, it is very important that this is a student led effort and a student decision.”
Though Kosin has participated in robotics clubs for more than a decade, she admitted that she was completely shocked to receive the distinction.
“I honestly thought I’d never win,” she said.
The good news continued on Wednesday. After meeting with the Kiwanis Club, the Beach Bots had two engineers sign on as volunteers and mentors. The team also received a $3,000 donation towards next year’s program from a resident who asked to remain anonymous. Such unexpected funding is a huge boon, said Kosin, because the robots are expensive to build every year and the team also has to deal with travel costs.
Her son, Austin Kosin, the current team captain, confirmed that the initial kit for a new competition bot costs about $6,500, which drops to $5,000 a year after that as some, but not all, parts can be recycled from old machines. While some money comes in through grants, Austin Kosin admitted that funding is also tricky and community support is vital.
“There are some hardships with funding,” he said.
Luckily, with the $3,000 donation and other grants the team hopes to expand the program next year to involve more students and take place in more events. Starting next year the team will be led by Qian, with Austin Kosin passing the torch to his teammate before departing for college in the fall, where he said his experience with the Beach Bots helped shape his decision to dual major in Electrical Computer Engineering and Robotics.