The Mansfield Middle School Robotics Team (MMSRobotics) competed against the top robotic teams from around the world earlier this month, and came out with a 15th place finish in the 2011 VEX Robotics World Championship in Kissimmee, FL.
MMSRobotics was one of over a hundred middle school teams in attendance at the three-day event which was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
In addition to middle school clubs, high school and college teams from China, Singapore, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Canada also competed.
Teams 902A and 902B represented Mansfield. Team 902B ranked 15th, a vast improvement over its 94th place finish in last year's competition, and had a chance to make it to the finals, but was not selected as an alliance partner by any of the top teams.
"There's three main things I'd do," said team member Chris Briere on improvements for the team for next year. "First our robot was rather slow compared to the other ones. The Chinese robot was blazing fast. We could have made our robot go faster, but we didn't have as much stability or control." Second, Briere said that "what really put their robot over the top was their driver was just really really skilled. There's always going to be room for improvement, for our driver to be better." A final improvement Briere said would have been to make the bonus round, which their team did not complete in due to a weak piece of metal.
The team started working conceptually on their robot after last year's competition and started physically building the robot at the beginning of 2010-11 school year. The teams compete in several competitions before the world championship and can alter their robots as needed.
"Our robot went through many metamorphoses in a way," said Briere. "After the first competition, we altered the robot based on what worked and what didn't."
Doug Perkins, a teacher at the middle school and adviser to the club, said that the students put a lot of work went into the competition. "The whole process is very much an engineering process," he said. "They come up with an idea, they come up with a prototype, they see if it will work and then modify it if they need to. So, it's a time consuming process."
Perkins said the robot must fit within an 18-inch cube and the teams must use all the components that Vex Robotics provides. Another limitation is money. Perkins said that if the students needed a part but could not afford it, they had to improvise or make it themselves with such skills as shaping and sawing.
"They were so close to getting into the finals," said Danny Briere, father of Chris Briere. "You cannot get any closer than this, so there's always next year!"