Sharon Robotics

Sharon Robotics Shows Off State, National and Global Presence

SHARON, Pa. – The Sharon City School District has dozens of elementary, middle school and high school students utilizing their STEM skills through robotics to achieve state, national and even global recognition.

The Sharon Tiger Techs Robotics Teams, which have a total of 18 children from fourth to ninth grade, had its Black team advance to the Razorback Invitational Open in Arkansas through the First Lego League Challenge learning system. 

The event, happening in May, will attract 80 teams from around the world. Also that month the Orange team will compete virtually in a contest based in California against 80 international teams.

That Black team earned a global innovation award for their Cargo Express project, which means they will advance to a global competition in June in St. Louis pending the results of the team’s essay submission. 

“It feels really good to see all of our work pay off,” says Sharon High School freshman Warren Hacket.

The Sharon High School Robotics Team, which encompasses seven students in grades 10 through 12, is advancing to the Pennsylvania State Championship in March near Allentown, Pa. It’s the first time this team has made it to the championship since 2019.

The team’s robots and controllers are mostly constructed from Legos.

“It’s a goal I’ve been striving toward as well as the rest of the team to try to get back there,” says Sharon High School senior Eli Buck. “We want to try to get there more consistently.”

Both competitions have certain skills the constructed robot must autonomously complete for 30 seconds followed by tasks performed while controlled by the student operators for the remainder of the two-and-a-half-minute round.

This year’s theme is transporting cargo. 

“They also have to work together as a team and work around the core values, to use those in both project and robot throughout the season,” says Dave Tomko, robotics coach for the Sharon City School District.

Both teams began practicing several times a week last August leading up to competition in January.

In addition to the skills competition in a designated playing field, there are three, five-minute judging sessions – presentations on the robot, project and core values, showing how they worked together as a team.

Dave Tomko, Ramsey Brown, Eli Buck and Alex Sokol pose with a robot in front of their practice course.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” Tomko says. “It takes a lot of dedication and commitment on the team members to do their part and work together as a team.”

The Zekelman Fund, T.J. Kavanaugh Foundation, Arconic Foundation, Chris Levitt Electric, The Brown Family, J. Bradley McGonigle Funeral Home & Crematory, Inc., UPMC Horizon and Sharon City School District sponsor the school’s robotics programs.

No one has to pay out of pocket expenses to be part of the program.

“That’s the amazing part is really the community that has been there for us for every trip we’ve gone on,” Tomko says. “They’re always there to support us one way or another, whether it be financial funding, reaching out to businesses in the community that focus on engineering or programming. 

“There’s a lot of different ways the community supports us, just not financially.”

Inspiration

A simple conversation about the school’s robotics program sparked the interest of Buck, then a fifth grader at Case Avenue Elementary School. 

The Sharon High School senior has been entrenched in the STEM-based program ever since his fifth-grade teacher reached out to Tomko.

“It was nice to see there were support systems and the teachers actually take notice of what they students are interested in back down at Case,” Buck says. “It was just a happenstance that I ended up in robotics. It’s led me down such a great path in my life and really inspired me and helped me find my passion.”

Enhanced academic curriculum with advanced courses – learning how to code, 3D model and speak in public – set him up for success.

“It helped me learn more about myself, what I want to do and push me further,” says Buck, who wants to be a mechanical or aerospace engineer.

For their high school competition the team pooled their ideas to construct the robot with the parts coming from retailers and online stores.

“The entire team really comes together to get that done,” Buck says. 

The objective of the skills competition is to place as many blocks and wiffle balls as possible onto different platforms inside the playing arena. Then there is a wheel atop the robot which spins a nearby circle to knock off rubber ducks. 

“There’s plenty of different ways to score on plenty of different challenges to complete,” Buck says. “There’s a lot of different things to consider when designing and building the robot.”

Snapping together

The Tiger Techs teams used bins of Lego parts to house the robot’s two motors, sensors, wheels and ball bearings, along with a gyro sensor that is used to guide the robot.

“When people think of the First Lego League, they’re like, ‘Let’s build some Legos,’” Tomko says. “It’s a lot more than that. The pieces that we use are technic Lego pieces. It’s a little bit different, and you can do a lot more with them. The robots, they have a brain to them. Programming behind that actually moves the robot.”

There are kits containing the pieces, but it doesn’t come with instructions. 

“They have to engineer and design the robot that’s the most efficient on the field,” Tomko says. “That’s where over the years they’ve been able to create a pretty efficient robot where they can do fairly well on the table game.”

Plenty of time is spent planning each mission of the robot during competitions, figuring out which will work best.

With the objective of transporting cargo, Hackett’s group looked at different ways to get the items from one place to another, relying on advice from professionals who spoke to their class.

“Before this season, I never realized how big of a problem it is for different things like cargo getting stuck at ports because there’s not enough containers for things to be shipped or not enough truck drivers,” Tomko says.

Pictured at top: Tony Gaggini, Warren Hackett, Katelyn Powell and Dave Tomko pose with robots and attachments.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.