Chatham Central School District Lik to Staff Resources area

Dr. Cheryl Nuciforo, Superintendent


Robotics Team Prepares for FIRST® Regional Robotics Competition


One of Chatham High School’s newest clubs has been hard at work this winter, staying long after school and even putting in time over the weekends to design and build a robot to compete in the New York Tech Valley FIRST® STEAMWORKS Regional Robotics Competition later this month. On March 17, Chatham will be heading to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy to take on 36 other teams in an arena-style competition that combines creativity and ingenuity with sport.   

the robotics team poses with thier robot during construction

The team’s six-week build off began January 7th when they attended a kickoff event for the competition at RPI. There, they learned what their challenges would be and got a sneak peek at the field their robot would compete in. The task laid before them was, well, not quite that simple; build a robot that could launch oversized whiffle balls over eight feet into a basket, climb a six-foot rope, and catch and load large gears onto a metal rod. In addition, their robot would need to complete at least fifteen seconds of fully-automated function during the competition - meaning their mechanical beast would need a bit of a brain too - requiring some programming skills on the part of the students. The rest of the time, the students could operate their robot remotely using wireless controls.

They also received a box of motors, control system components, a variety of automation parts, batteries, and other materials to build their robot from. However, they were allowed to add any additional components to this basic kit that they felt necessary to complete the tasks before them.

“At first we were confused on how to pull off the climb, but eventually we came up with a really cool idea,” said sophomore Ben Rippel, who explained that the rules allowed his team to choose what type of rope their robot would climb, and that opened up the door for some out-of-the-box thinking. By using a long strip of Velcro for the rope and fastening Velcro to a wheel-and-winch system attached to the robot’s chassis, Ben and his team were able to devise a sure-hold way for their robot to grab and winch itself up the six feet required. As for the whiffle balls, the team built a spinning-wheel launcher (similar to those used for baseball and tennis hitting practice) with a hopper. The problem of catching and loading the gears was solved by adding a folding ramp that can be operated with a pneumatic piston system. Wheels help the chassis, with all these components attached to it, move about the area.

To help test their ideas, the team constructed a replica of the field they will be competing in, complete with all the challenge obstacles their robot will need to overcome. In fact, building this field was the first task the team completed, before beginning to build the robot itself.

This is Chatham High Schools first year having a robotics team and the new after-school club has enjoyed a strong level of interest and membership, with about 20 students involved.

The club’s origins are due in large part to Ben’s active interest in the subject. For the past several years, he had been involved with robotics teams outside of Chatham but began thinking, “Hey, why don’t I just do it here?” Ben said, “I went to the science department and asked around about who could advise the club. I came to Mrs. Fischer and she said, ‘sure, this sounds awesome’ and it’s just taken off from there.”

With CHS science teachers Sandra Fischer and Justin Forest on board as advisors, Ben set about developing interest in the club and recruiting members. He promoted it amongst his classmates and at the High School’s annual club fair, and helped Mrs. Fischer and Mr. Forest pitch the idea to the Board of Education, who supported the initiative. A rookie grant from FIRST® as well as a grant from the Chatham Education Foundation that Mrs. Fischer applied for also helped get the team and their robot up and running. 

The FIRST® competition isn’t just about robots, programming, and electronics, however. It’s also about building skills in communication and outreach, team management, strategy, and branding. The team can score points in these other areas and this has attracted additional students to the club.

“At first I didn’t want to [join the club] because I’m not really into robots, but Mrs. Fischer said there was a social media component of it, and I’m really into social media and thought it would be cool to post a lot about the robotics,” said sophomore Sydney Putnam, who has be handling a lot of the team publicity. She’s been posting photos, video, and other information about Chatham’s progress on sites like Instagram to share their ideas with other teams, gain interest in the project, and score points on social media challenges put forth by the FIRST® competition.

Wish Chatham luck as our team heads to RPI to compete in their first ever robotics competition. You can learn more about the FIRST® STEAMWORKS Regional Robotics Competition here...

Pictured above is the robotics team with their robot during construction. Left to right are Harley McCagg, Schulyer Rochester, Andrew Sperl, Zach Gregg, Anderson Coonrad, Ben Rippel, Patrick Knight, Cody Johnson, Jack McEachern, Pamela Mountain, and Sydney Putnam.

Follow what the team is up to at