BERLIN — The Worcester County Beach Bots gave their final robotics demonstration of the season last week in Ocean Pines and discussed the future of the team following a benchmark year. The aim for next year is a more compact, academically aware squad looking to run with the torch being passed by this year’s large crop of graduating seniors.
Showcasing their championship winning machine “Bruce” in front of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Ocean Pines-Ocean City earlier this month, the Beach Bots spoke about the past season, which saw a national-level win and competition in a global-level event. Coach Michele Kosin also broached the topic of how the team will try to top 2014 next year despite losing a lot of established talent.
“We had seven seniors graduate this year so we’re going through a bit of a change,” she said. “We’re kind of re-inventing ourselves this summer. I think we’re going to focus on maybe a little bit of a smaller team and maybe a little more of an academic focus.”
In the three years since the team started, it has exploded to more than 60 members, which Kosin admitted can be unwieldy. There might be a cap on participants next year or even a JV program to complement the traditional team.
“A smaller team would be nice because with this many kids it was hard to transport everybody,” said Ashley Dear, a rising Stephen Decatur High School senior and soon-to-be co-captain. “I feel like everybody should get to have hand in the actual robot.”
A massive amount of work goes into the bot every year. The Beach Bots showed that off Wednesday morning when they took Bruce through its paces at the Ocean Pines Community Center. The robot stands about the height of a desk and only weighs around 100 pounds but is extraordinarily fast and turns on a dime. This year’s tournaments centered on tossing a large ball from a custom built launcher. Bruce demonstrated this dutifully, catapulting the soft object and then racing to get underneath before it landed.
The machine was part of the winning group at a national tournament hosted in North Carolina earlier this year and competed in the global follow-up held in St. Louis in April. It’s the team’s most complicated creation to date and one that was built without any starting kit. It took a lot of guesswork but proved tough enough to survive all of its high-energy tasks, though there were a few bumps and bruises along the way.
“In competition, these things slam into each other at full force,” said Gary Qian, a graduated senior and current co-captain. “We actually shattered the electronics board on the bottom and that’s quite a feat.”
In addition to looking for a streamlined team next year, Kosin would like for Beach Bots to be more of an academic springboard for members who are interested in science and technology. There’s already a solid scholarly foundation in place, with many robotics team members regularly meeting for study groups even when the team isn’t practicing. This has resulted in a well-rounded squad, according to Kosin, and one that performed strong with scholarships amongst its graduates.
Graduating team co-captain Danny Beck, for example, received $44,000 in scholarships, $8,000 of which coming as a direct result of his association with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a robotics organization. All seven of the graduating seniors on the team will be going to college to study some form of engineering.
Next year, Kosin would like for the scholarship drive to play an even bigger role, a sentiment shared by her crew.
“A focus on scholarships would definitely be helpful and pinpointing what we need to do to get those scholarships because a lot of it is stuff that you don’t know what it is,” said Dear. “When you find out about it, by then you’ve missed the deadline.”
With the club contributing time, funding and advice to the Beach Bots, Kosin felt it was fitting to hold a summer demonstration for the Kiwanis Club before school begins again and all hands have to prepare for another season. The funding particularly was impactful for the team. There were some students who could not have afforded all of the travel expenses without the community pitching in, according to Kosin.
The crowd, which included Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson and Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Quinn, responded positively to the group and asked several questions after the demonstration, most from an engineering angle.
State Senator Jim Mathias was also in the room to see the bot in action and said that he was impressed by the depth of technological aptitude on display from Worcester County students. What he saw could bode well for the future of engineering on the shore.
“This is tomorrow. I’m so pleased to see our students from Worcester County be here and I’m so pleased to see the Kiwanis Club supporting this and our community support,” said Mathias. “I’m very proud of their accomplishment in North Carolina and their competition in St. Louis.”