Photo Gallery | FIRST Tech Challenge meet at BCC
PITTSFIELD — Nobody could deny "Evolution" on Saturday.
Hadley's FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC) Team walked away from the final robotics match of the regular season at Berkshire Community College as the Western Massachusetts league's top-ranked. It narrowly defeated the Eagle Empire, one of Mount Everett Regional High School's two robotics teams to compete.
The 10 teams from schools around Western Massachusetts will carry their points accrued over the last three matches into a league championship in Milton two weeks from now; the winner of that tournament will move on to a higher competition.
Saturday's third match of the Western Massachusetts league capped off a productive first season in FIRST Tech Challenge competition which pits teams — and the robots they design, program, and operate — against one another in a 144-square-foot platform to see whose creation can perform the most tasks. The teams receive points when their robots gobble up debris — Wiffle balls and plastic blocks — and place it in certain zones that are worth a varying amount of points depending on the difficulty.
Event organizer Chris Thompson, the technology coordinator at Southern Berkshire Regional School district, said "we're primarily making sure the kids have fun," but the added students were focused in on the competitive aspect of the event. They invested hours of time into their machines.
"This is the ultimate program for the acquisition of 21st-century skills," Thompson said. "Kids are learning to think technically, but it's also quite creative."
Each competition lasts only 2 minutes and 30 seconds, leaving little room for operator or machine error. The first 30 seconds of a competition are an "autonomous period" in which the robot must perform tasks and win points via pre-programmed instructions only. Four teams compete at once and students masked in protective eyewear gather around the soft foam rink to operate their robots.
The teams that participated on Saturday came from Deerfield Academy, Hadley, Mount Everett, and St. Joseph Central High.
The growth of robotics in Western Massachusetts and the ability of high school teams to compete were made possible by a slew of volunteers and financial support from local companies like General Dynamics and Sabic. the Berkshire High School Robotics Planning Committee consists of 12 members, including Berkshire Community College's Denise Johns and Mt. Everett's Paul O'Brien.
"That's our goal, get everybody involved," O'Brien said of local high schools, adding that he hopes to see the league grow next year. "[Science Technology Engineering and Math] STEM education is a nationwide focus that's our future."