Meet Team Cloud 9 aka the Roosevelt Robotics Team
Before its regular meeting began on October 21 the School Board was treated to a demonstration by the Roosevelt Robots.
No, the west side high school hasn’t abandoned its longstanding nickname of Roughriders, a nod to its namesake, Teddy Roosevelt. The team that presented to the board was a deep-thinking robotics squad and even though it goes by the name Team Cloud 9, you gotta admit that Roosevelt Robots has a certain ring to it. Or how about the Roobots?
The challenge in trying to publicize student robotics is how to impart an appreciation without any real understanding of how they do what they do. It’s like someone being assigned to cover the first football game they ever saw.
Team Cloud 9 is presently busy with its building season, according to its captain, Roosevelt junior Will Gunderson. They’re girding for the First Tech Challenge. FTC is a competition sponsored by Rockwell Collins that culminates with the FTC World Championships in St. Louis at the same stadium where the NFL’s Rams play. Gunderson and his mates have been there as spectators. “You’d be surprised how big the crowds are,” he said. They’re hungry to go back as competitors. “A team from (West Des Moines) Valley won a couple of years ago,” Gunderson noted. Why not this bunch? “The world championships represent the highest concentration of MIT grads anywhere,” outside of Cambridge, Mass, he went on, matter-of-factly.
FTC is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete using a sports model (the FTC website describes the event as “sport of the mind”). Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in a league format against other teams. Awards are given for the competition and also for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments. Besides bragging rights there are $13.5 million worth of college scholarships in play.
Roosevelt’s players gather several times per week, usually at school; sometimes at Gunderson’s house. They invited visitors to a recent afterschool brainstorm in the classroom of their coach/mentor, Roosevelt physics teacher Jon Galli.
While a couple of student-engineers tinkered on the floor with a small prototype that suggested the old lunar rover developed by NASA engineers for the Apollo program another sketched a schematic design on a whiteboard. Others clustered around a desk swapping concepts and what-ifs. Raw intelligence galloped around the space like a wild horse.
The bespectacled Gunderson, clean-cut and courteous behind his central casting horn rims, is clearly the team’s go-to guy. He’s been at this longer than the rest and has seen the Roosevelt robotics group grow to the extent of three teams and roughly 30 participants. He’s adept at not talking down to old-school laymen.
“Not everybody is necessarily into the engineering stuff,” he said. “We have kids involved who want to do the marketing and sponsorship aspects, for instance.”
You watch and listen for a while and the whole thing starts to seem more like the boiler room of a private sector hi-tech startup than a public school classroom.
Galli noticed that, too. He’s new to Roosevelt this year after coming from Sioux City. Gunderson reached out to him upon arrival and enlisted his help in guiding and harnessing the critical mass he’d already assembled.
“I’m the son of a physics teacher and I love it,” Galli said. “But if there had been programs like FTC and opportunities like these kids have here, there’s no telling where I’d be now or what I’d be doing.”
FTC provides competing teams with a prompt involving collection and manipulation of wiffle balls within a defined time period during part of which the robotic device must operate autonomously before team members retake remote control of it. So yeah, wiffle balls have made it all the way from backyard ball diamonds to the engineering lab. Arbitrarily assigned tasks like the ones posed by FTC are just the beginning, according to Gunderson.
“(Roosevelt Principal) Mr. Biggs wants us to develop a robot big enough to carry banners and perform at pep rallies,” he said with a we’ll-get-right-on-it-Chief look in his eye. Once that mission’s accomplished it may be only a matter of time until the Roobots take the field.