FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team GLITCH roared onto the field of competitive robotics for the first time last year, designing and building a robot that took them all the way to the 2016 World Championships with the state’s Rookie All Star Award. The team of dedicated high school students—powered by volunteers, parents, mentors and coach Neil Rosenberg, lecturer in engineering at UNC Asheville—is back this year with a whole new robot to roll out.
Over the course of just six weeks the students on team GLITCH have imagined, designed, programed and built from scratch a 6-foot, 150-pound robot that can drive autonomously, pick up and shoot balls, and even climb a rope.
GLITCH recently competed at a district event in Virginia, placing a respectable seventh out of 38 teams; and at the district event in Greensboro they came in 12th out of 31. But for team captain Caleb Pohlman, a high school senior, the most gratifying part of the experience so far has been creating a strong team.
“Personally I would say the most rewarding part is seeing the new students that have joined,” Pohlman said. “I think we have six new students, and seeing them integrate into the team, seeing different team members help them, and the new students giving to the team—I think that’s been really amazing.”
One of those new students is John Castellani, a high school sophomore who’s been working on the mechanical team, helping to physically build the robot.
“I didn’t realize what it really entailed when I first joined the group,” Castellani said. “That’s a really big thing that surprised me, how much everyone has to contribute to make a working robot.”
“Other than the wheels that drive on the floor, everything from the wheels up came from a student’s mind,” Rosenberg said. “They designed it, they built it, they’re testing it. That’s a really major milestone for the team.”
Beyond their robot work, Team GLITCH also has been spending time reaching out to the community, Pohlman said. “We’ve gone to the Boys and Girls Club and helped with the robotics program there for younger students, kids who maybe don’t have the ability to go every single day to a robotics club,” Pohlman said. The team also mentored a FIRST Lego League team of middle school students, called PATCH.
Rosenberg, who has a long history of mentoring FIRST Robotics teams, says programs like these are designed to create a continuum that supports students studying in the STEM fields from a young age all the way through college.
“It’s a win-win, in that we become a more active partner in the community promoting STEM—and of course we’re hoping that some of the kids will grow up and decide to go to UNC Asheville in one of the several STEM related fields that we present here,” Rosenberg said.
GLITCH co-coach Katie Schafer, a quality engineer for GE Aviation, joined the team to return to the sense of community she found when she was part of a FIRST Robotics team in middle school and high school—where she found the passion for engineering that eventually became her career.
“I try to reiterate to the team, this is real stuff,” Schafer said. “What you’re getting frustrated with right now, and solving, is very much applicable to the real world. You work with a whole bunch of undefined variables that you have to flex around because somebody’s not going to be leaning over you, nudging you in the right direction, telling you what the answer is.
“It’s very much experiment, try, fail, pivot and succeed,” she said.
To see GLITCH in action, head to the North Carolina District FIRST Robotics Competition from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 18-19 at Kimmel Arena on campus. The public is welcome to see the exciting competition and free tickets are available at firstnorthcarolina.org.