Unprecedented Success for WA Robotics at Qualifier Competition

Forest Ma, Writer

The WA MegaRams robotics team recorded their best ranking of all time at the New England District Central Massachusetts robotics competition from March 29 – 31.

This was the second of two qualifying events, both of which determine eligibility for the District Championships event. Their first qualifying event took place just before March break in Salem, New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, the MegaRams did not score high enough to advance to Districts Championships, although there will still an exhibitional competition at the end of the year called BattleCry at WPI for the MegaRams to showcase their robot.

The top ranking 8 teams were given the right to choose 2 teams to team up with in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. The MegaRams found themselves to be the best ranked team that was not picked, and became the first alternate. In fact, the team was called to start getting ready to replace a selected team with a malfunctioning robot, but eventually was never called up as the other team’s robot was able to run correctly again.

The team, with around 20 or so members, is mentored by Mr. Paul Himottu, geometry and precalculus teacher of the WA Math Department. Alongside his mentorship are captains Andrew Adiletta, Devin Rochelle, and Shaunak Sharma.

“Even though we didn’t go to quarter finals, semifinals, and finals, it was still by far the best we’ve ever done. We’ve never been inside the top twenty before,” Mr. Himottu said, commenting on their successful placing at 16th out of 39 teams at the competition. “[Qualifying for District Championships] can be our goal for next year.”

There was a designated course of objectives and tasks for the robots to accomplish in a match, of which was standardized for all matches in the competition. Teams received this designated course format a few months prior to the contest, and built their robots in accordance to it in preparation for the districts event. The competition course was revealed in a video (which was displayed during an assembly in January), and involved robots in a sandstorm environment delivering cargo to a spaceship before returning to the robot’s habitat. The amount of cargo delivered, along with various other objectives, determined the number of points a team received.

“You have to design something that will drive around the field. You also have to work on programming, because you have to take and say what each button does [on an xbox controller] and you’ve got to program the whole thing,” Mr. Himottu said, describing the period of preparation and building for the big day.

The team meets 5 days a week and 2 hours per day, accounting for a total of more or less 10 hours a week of both programming software and installing hardware. Students heavily dedicate their after-school hours of the day to robotics in order to successfully compete in the event, and they take full responsibility for their projects, instead of relying on faculty intervention.

“They’re very, very good,” Mr. Himottu said. “I’d say like 95 percent of the people on the team just want to get in and do work, fix problems. I mean everybody there has an interest, and wants to do well, and the thing is once you’ve been to a competition, you really get excited about it.”

“We pride ourselves in having the students do the work. Yes, we have adult mentors, and we give advice and things like that, but the students are the ones who make the designs, the students are the ones who do the work,” Mr. Himottu said. “It’s their robot.”

Andrew Adiletta, one of the captains of the team and experienced robotics team member, said he felt that the team’s system of preparation worked very well, as they were able to subdivide the whole process of building into subsections, with captains leading groups of people working on different things to maximize efficiency and progress. In addition to that, Andrew felt that the success for this season can be attributed to both the veteran experience from seniors on the team and the genuine avid interest from all members.

However, Andrew’s role on the team went beyond leading by example and contributing to the robot in a technical manner. “Sometimes obviously during the competition things aren’t gonna go the direction you want it to go, so you have to make sure that everyone stays positive, because things are gonna turn around if you make the changes that are necessary and revamp the plan, and that’s kind of an important role of a captain as well,” Adiletta said.

Despite tremendous achievement for the team overall, Andrew sees an even brighter future for the MegaRams in the following years. “I think we’re just gonna keep going up from here. I think we have nowhere to go but up, and hopefully next year we will make Districts. That’s the goal.”