This year, INNOVIM is thrilled to be a sponsor of a local High School robotics team, Team 2849, Ursa Major, from Hammond High School in Columbia, MD. Each year, our sponsored team builds a robot to enter in the FIRST Robotics Competition. The ideals of FIRST are teamwork, sportsmanship, and giving high school students an opportunity to work with mentors in the field.

Every year, FIRST presents FIRST Robotics Championship (FRC) teams with new and unique challenges that affect both design and strategy—the game is a closely held secret. Following the year’s game reveal in early January, each of the teams around the state, nation, and world have six weeks to build, program, and test a robot that meets the challenge. This includes designing, prototyping, building, programming, testing, wiring, and fixing the robot to play a game.

During the six weeks, students redesign and adapt to any and all problems that arise. This year, the game of FIRST Stronghold is played by two alliances of three teams each. Alliances compete against each other to breach their opponents’ defenses, known as outer works, and capture their tower. They score points by crossing elements of their opponents’ outer works, scoring boulders in their opponents’ tower goals, and surrounding and even scaling their opponents’ tower itself. The level of excitement in the games is intense, as illustrated in this video of a semi-final match recently held in Bel Air, MD:

In it, we see robots repeatedly weakening and breaching the castles outer defenses, while defensive robots prevent the competing team from scoring shots into the castle.

Ursa Major's robot
Ursa Major’s robot

While many FIRST Robotics Teams are mentor-led, Ursa Major is entirely student-run, so students gain leadership and communication skills in addition to technical skills. The students gain valuable experience and knowledge from professional mentors who volunteer their time to guide students. Ursa Major’s committed team members put in over 370 hours of work throughout the year, mostly concentrated in the six-week build season.

This 2016 season, Ursa Major and their plucky and robust robot competed twice in our Chesapeake District, first in the Greater DC Event held on March 11 to 13 at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, MD, and then in the Northern Maryland Event held on March 18 to 20 at Harford Technical High School in Bel Air, MD. The robot performed very well in each competition, match after match. It featured a unique imaging-to-control feedback system that allowed the shooter to consistently score high shots into the castle tower.

Ursa Major won the prestigious Quality Award
Ursa Major won the prestigious Quality Award

In the Greater DC event, Ursa Major made it into the quarterfinals, and in the most recent Northern Maryland event, Ursa Major competed in the semifinals. Even more impressively, Ursa Major was selected as the best from among the 34 competing teams to win the Quality Award. Sponsored by Motorola Solutions Foundation, the Quality Award celebrates machine robustness in concept and fabrication. As the winning team, Ursa Major demonstrated these characteristics in many ways from planning through execution. Building the robot was only part of their success and the judges recognized them as a quality example to others.

“We have seen firsthand the connection between student STEM opportunities and strong job candidates in science and technology fields,” says Dr. Phil Ardanuy, an FRC Judge Advisor and INNOVIM’s Chief Science Officer. “INNOVIM is exciting to help build our community by empowering FRC students to learn the skills that will put them at the forefront of our future workforce.”

Ursa Major team members with FRC Judge Advisor and INNOVIM CSO Dr. Phil Ardanuy

Ursa Major team members with FRC Judge Advisor and INNOVIM CSO Dr. Phil Ardanuy