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County robotics group takes regional honors for 2nd year

For the second consecutive year, the Worcester County youth robotics team Titanium Wrecks took home honors at the Chesapeake Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in College Park, Md.

Youth robotics team Titanium Wrecks had another impressive showing at the Chesapeake Regional FIRST Robotics Competition this month , and, with a little help from the community, will head to the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis next. SUBMITTED IMAGE

The T-Wrecks took home a Rookie Inspiration Award during their inaugural season last year, and earned awards for team spirit and engineering inspiration during the 2015 competition, held April 2-4.

Team members are in grades 8 to 12 and come from the county’s public and private schools and include home-school students as well. T-Wrecks also carries the distinction of being the official Worcester County NASA House Robotics Team.

“There were 58 teams from the U.S., Israel, United Arab Emirates and of the 17 awards given out besides the winners and finalists, the kids won two of the awards,” team mentor Paul Suplee said.

Suplee said the Chesapeake Regional Team Spirit Award is given to the team that embodies the spirit of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization founded in 1989.

“The second award was the big, big one, which is the Chesapeake Regional Engineering Inspiration Award,” Suplee said. “It’s the second most prestigious award you can win in robotics. That one was for the kids inspiring the younger kids to really get into STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics].”

With the theme of “Recycle Rush” at the Chesapeake Regional, Suplee said each team was tasked with building a robot capable of stacking a series of consumables in order to receive points.

“Basically, it’s whatever you can get stacked on the scoring platforms in two and a half minutes. Then the winners move onto the semifinals,” Suplee said. “The robot that we built was a forklift design that was able to manipulate totes and trashcans.”

Suplee said the students used machining skills to manufacture the robot from scratch using a kit of parts.

“We brought what is called a ‘mecanum wheel,’ meaning, basically, this robot can go in any direction whatsoever, which is very cool,” Suplee said. “They worked with the mecanum wheel, they built the gearboxes that the mecanum wheel is attached to, they built the chassis, the lift mechanisms, and that’s just the build team.”

Following production of the robot, a programing team developed code to allow the drive team to operate the unit using a computer-based controller.

“They control all the different facets of the robot using a joystick,” Suplee said.

T-Wrecks also includes finance, marketing, safety and community outreach teams.

“There are so many kids doing so many different things,” Suplee said. “It’s amazing. They’re definitely a great group of kids.”

Suplee said the competitions open doors to scholarship opportunities, including $18 million from the University of Maryland engineering program, as well as grants from manufacturers of specific parts used in the competitions.

Despite what Suplee said was major support from NASA and other groups such as the TEC Foundation, the team still needs to raise $18,000 during the next two weeks. If it meets the budget goal, the team will travel to St. Louis to take part in the FIRST World Championships, April 22-25, for the second year in a row.

The team finished in the top 25 in its division last year.

“We will be in the Galileo Division, which we were in last year, and what’s amazing is we’re a second-year team and we’ll be in the world championships twice,” Suplee said. “Being a private team is cool because we have kids from Worcester Prep, Stephen Decatur, Snow Hill High School, and we have some home school kids that went back to the public school system. We’re open to really anyone. If you’re a student in Worcester County, you’re welcome on our team.”

To donate to T-Wrecks visit www.team-t-wrecks.org/donate.html.

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