The stacks of pizza boxes and the one last white-frosted doughnut had all been abandoned as the Homestead students that make up Team 4982 for the 2015 FIRST Robotics Competition began brainstorming Saturday.
With some gathered at tables, and others huddled close around the scratchings made on the whiteboard, the team has only six weeks to build a functioning robot fit for competition against area teams.
The Homestead team, which won "Rookie All-Star" at the Indiana championship last year, is ready to return with hopes of competing in the national championship in St. Louis, at the Edward Jones Dome.
Lead mentor and Homestead teacher, Robert Steverson, said the students will meet every day after school and on Saturdays to get the project done in time.
"It replicates the real world," he said. "We don’t do that in school – we don’t give them an assignment and not give them enough time to finish it. That doesn’t work well. But that’s what this program does, today a problem was given to them, and now they have six weeks to come up with a solution. It sparks imagination, it sparks creativity, but it’s the real world."
Teams will have to build a recycling robot who has to be able to stack totes and garbage bins as high as possible in 2½ minutes.
The robots will also have to pick up swim noodles, which will symbolize "litter" that the robot has to either put in its landfill or throw into its competitors’ area as penalty points.
The organization FIRST, or "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," estimates that 75,000 high school students will make up 3,000 teams nationwide for this year’s competition.
"It’s almost like a varsity sport – for nerds, I suppose," Puneeth Meruva, team captain and Homestead senior, said. "But really when you go to the competitions, you have fans in the stands cheering, and it’s a very cool feeling, especially to see your work that you did in six weeks. You think it’s bad, but when you actually see it perform on the field you have a sense of pride."
Their first area competition will be at Lawrence North High School in February in Indianapolis, followed by another competition in Kokomo in March. After the two competitions, the Homestead team will need enough points to qualify for the Indiana Championship at Warren Central High School in April in Indianapolis.
Steverson admits the competitions come with a lofty price tag. Last year, the team was able to afford it with the help of sponsorships, and he’s hoping to do the same again this year in order to travel to the championship event if the team makes it.
He said the team has already received contributions from companies including Fort Wayne Metals, Exelis and BAE Systems.
He also hopes that the community support may encourage more area schools to get involved as well.
"There’s 48-plus teams in the state, a lot of them from Indianapolis. We’re the second-largest community in Indiana, we have one team," he says. "We think that there’s a bed here where this program can grow. If I’m talking about programs that doesn’t necessarily have to pull out money out of the school, those students are going to benefit from it."
Co-captain and Homestead junior Dakota Alverson says for students pursuing engineering like herself, it gives them some practical applications outside of the usual classwork.
"A lot of what you learn in a physics classroom, chemistry classroom or doing math, it’s practical, but it’s not as fun," she said.