For the first time in Apple Pi history, the brainy team of high school-age robot engineers will be headed to the annual National Championship of the FIRST Robotics Competition. The competition, pitting Apple Pi's robot against hundreds of other robots nationwide, will be held in St. Louis, MO., April 25-28. Also for the first time in the organization’s history, the team includes participants from Branford and Madison in addition to the core group of more than 20 students who hail from Guilford. Branford’s participants are sophomore Emily Yale and BHS freshman Sonny Giannini. Madison’s senior Casey O’Connor is Chief Strategist for the team. Apple Pi, formerly a Guilford High School-based group, is now part of the 4-H Club of America allowing for the inclusion of students from other towns. If you have a student interested in participating in the future visit www.applepirobotics.org.
In early March the team brought their robot, a device built in just six weeks per organization requirements, to the WPI FIRST Robotics Competition in Worcester, MA. Mentor Wendy Barry, a Guilford resident, said the team was seeded 30th prior to the competition start. Securing first place in the event and earning automatic spot at the upcoming finals in St. Louis was a shock to all, said Barry. “We didn’t know we were going to be able to play with the big boys.”
Now advancing onward in competition, the group has to come up with the travel funds and quickly!
Apple Pi, though taking its name from a relatively inexpensive treat, is a very expensive club to run. Barry explains that it costs about $30,000 a year for students to participate, build and compete. This year they set aside entry fees, totaling several thousands of dollars, to enter the WPI competition as well as the recently held FIRST Robotics Competition NortheastUtilities Connecticut Regionals. They had no intention of having to come up with more money to head to the finals, explaind Barry.
“We were in no danger of that happening… except we have a really good robot this year," she laughed.
Apple Pi was backed the $5,000 entry fee for the nationals by sponsors Pratt & Whitney United Technologies Corporation and Rockwell Automotive (see all sponsors online). Now they are raising funds for travel expenses to head to St. Louis. There will be a this weekend as well as on at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. You can also support Apple Pi by making a secure donation online through PayPal.
So what exactly does Apple Pi do and how did it start?
About six years ago, Al Bishop, owner of Bishop’s Orchards, traveled to New Hampshire where he saw his grandson compete in a robotics competition. Barry details that Bishop was so impressed that he insisted a local group start as well thus Apple Pi was born.
“Apple Pi is a group of high school students from Guilford and surrounding communities working to make the “connection” between the academic lessons of a high school curriculum and the world of an engineering-based business,” their website states. “Opportunities exist to take part in all aspects of the business – planning, financing, marketing, design and the building of a robot intended to compete against other robots in a game that changes every year. Students are presented with the real-world challenges dealing with time, budget and resource constraints.”
Now a senior, Barry’s son Trevor has been on the team for three years and is currently a driver of the robot. Seeing her son grow with the organization, Barry commented, “This team has transformed my son.”
“It teaches the kids… it’s not just about these robots. It’s about teamwork and actually how you work together to make and plan how you do these projects.”
FIRST Robotics held their inaugural competition back in 1992 in a New Hampshire high school gym and since has grown to include more than 250,000 student-participants and 24,000 robots.
According to their website, the FRC is “The varsity Sport for the Mind.” The game “combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It’s as close to "real-world engineering" as a student can get.”
Barry agrees, stating that her team works tirelessly every year to compete. Every year the game is different, Barry explains, challenging the students to come up with a new and unique strategy and robot. This year, “Rebound Rumble,” challenged the students to create a robot to compete in a basketball-like game, which pits two alliances of three teams against each other.
The robot created by the students, Barry details, must run on its own for several minutes at the start of a match via programming. After that, the drivers of the team can man the robot to earn points.
“Not only are you building a new robot to play this game,” Barry shares, “but you have to come up with a strategy to play this game.”
Teams compete with two other groups in a three verses three scenarios, Barry said, which is what she called “cooperetition” (cooperation and competition). Essentially, teams can be playing with a group in one round and then against them the next.
Incredibly proud of the team, Barry said Apple Pie is ranked 48th out of 2,000 teams competing in the upcoming games.