By Pam Harnden, Livermore Falls Advertiser
FARMINGTON — Blue Crew, the robotics team at Mt. Blue High School, has been awarded a United Technologies Corp. FIRST Robotics grant.
United Technologies, with headquarters in Farmington, Connecticut, awards grants to robotics teams to help with registration costs at FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition (FRC) regional, district and national competitions.
Blue Crew will receive $4,000 for registration costs for the two regional competitions it will attend. One is in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, on March 9. The other is in Lewiston, Maine, on March 23.
If the team qualifies for the district competition, the grant will provide $2,500 for the meet in Boston, Massachusetts. If it qualifies for the world competition, the grant will provide an additional $4,000 for the meet in Detroit, Michigan.
“We’ll receive $10,500 if we go all the way, which we hope to do,” coach and mentor Richard Wilde said.
He said an employee at a UTC affiliated organization had to apply for the grant. Pratt and Whitney, with a location in North Berwick, is an affiliate.
Wilde reached out to James Brann who works there. Brann is a Mt. Blue graduate and the son of Mt. Blue math teacher Jocelyn Cahill.
Brann contacted Wilde and in October team members attended Manufacturing Day at Pratt and Whitney. While there, a video was produced featuring the team members. It can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/prattandwhitney/videos/10155261377079737/ .
The team is waiting to hear about a Gear Up grant it applied for. It is also looking for new team sponsors. Last week members gave a presentation to the Farmington Rotary Club and hoped to connect with area businesses.
“We’d welcome anyone who wants to sponsor us,” member Ben Andrews said.
Wilde said the last fundraiser of the year will be a class on building your own 3-D printer. It is offered through Adult Education with all proceeds going to Blue Crew.
“This team has grown quite a bit in the last two years,” Wilde said.
Blue Crew members have put in hundreds of hours preparing for the 2018 FRC season.
The team purchased the root beer float business from the Hinkley Family Scholarship Association. They attended Fourth of July events in Farmington and Rangeley, Farmington’s Summer Fest, the Wilton Blueberry Festival, Bike Maine in Farmington and the Apple Pumpkin Festival in Livermore Falls. At most events they sold floats and/or gave robot demonstrations.
“We’ve pretty much tried every way to make money. We started the summer $6,000 in debt. We have a positive bank balance now,” Wilde said.
Sponsors this year include United Technologies Corp., Pratt and Whitney, Robotics Institute of Maine, Gear Up Maine, Franklin Savings Bank, Hannaford, Boothby’s Orchard and Farm Winery and North Star Orchards.
Mentor Joel Pike said the team didn’t have a trailer in its first two years. It now has one featuring the team’s logo and sponsors.
The team participated in two off-season robotics events. Summer Heat was held this summer in South Portland, Mainely SPIRIT 7 in September at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Teams practice using the previous year’s competition field with slight changes. They get a feel for what competition is like.
Pike said, “New members Logan (Holmes) and Lucien (Hammond) came on early enough this summer to attend. They had never seen the game field. They drove the robot a few nights prior, picked up the game and were going toe to toe with some of the top teams in New England, the world. When they get to the real field they will have that experience.”
The team currently has about twenty members. More students have expressed an interest and may join in time for the competitions.
Andrews said members have partnered with a new FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team at Mt. Blue Middle School. We’re giving them critiques, helping them optimize their robots performance and showing how to research and best give information.
“They’re heading to the state championship. We’re very excited about that,” Andrews said.
Pike said a fair number of Blue Crew members had prior FLL experience, both in and out of Maine.
On Wednesdays, Wilde holds Computer-Aided Design seminars for the team. Tuesday afternoons Wilde and his students give programming sessions.
“It’s great when you get the students teaching,” Wilde said.
Andrews said the team would tear down last year’s robot after it is presented for the last time this year. Parts will be used to build the robot for this year’s game.
The kick-off for the game is Jan. 6. FRC has sent out the logo and teasers about the 2018 Challenge, FIRST Power Up.
“The first teaser shows someone going into an old video game. It’s probably a video game theme,” Pike said.
Business manager Andrea Jones said she likes the new feed of ideas she sees coming through the program. New people look at things differently and the game changes every year.
“You get to collaborate with people, get strengths from them. The really rewarding piece for me is there’s such a big flow of people who want to help you get better,” Jones said.
Member Matthew Gallant said only a few students on this team are from the original team.
“Looking at where we are now, we’ve developed so much. We’ve grown exponentially, are so much better as a team,” he said.
For more information about Blue Crew visit the website, http://bluecrew6153.org/, or follow on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/FRC6153/.