Shelton High robotics team rolling to world competition

SHELTON — The Shelton High robotics team has maintained its competitive edge, even after two years away from the technology challenge due to the pandemic.

The squad — with a first- and second-place finish in the books to start this season — remains on course for Houston, Texas, and another trip to the World Championships with its robotic creation “Hawkeye,” which has earned the name “because it never misses a shot.”

“It is always so thrilling to see these amazing kids achieve great things,” said team advisor and longtime Shelton High teacher Michele Piccolo, a semi-finalist for the Woodie Flowers Award, which recognizes outstanding mentors who have made a significant impact on their team and their community.

Captained by build lead Joshua Mallette, build lead and technician Austin D’Aulizio, lead programmer Diya Patel and lead programmer and human player Ria Dalvi, the squad has 35 members, with 12 mentors.

“The energy and excitement at competitions is unparalleled,” Dalvi said. “Traveling across New England and the country with the team is such a fun and bonding experience. Everyone gets to see all the hard work they put into the robot and the team pay off.”

Shelton’s team, as well as squads from around the world, received its challenge in January.

“We have about six weeks to build a robot that can shoot oversized tennis balls into an 8-foot-tall goal and climb ascending bars,” Piccolo said. “Our robot is expected to shoot five balls in the first 30 seconds with just written code and then 20 more in the tele-operated period before (two and a half minutes) expires.”

Piccolo said at the end of the game, the robot must lift off the ground and traverse three ascending bars, like the monkey bars on a playground. Getting to the top bar is 15 points.

“When I first saw the climb at the end, I almost thought we are never going to be able to do that, but we were filled with excitement the first time that we did it,” Piccolo said.

Teams are separated into alliances made up of three teams throughout the competition. The alliance that scores the most points wins the match.

“After missing out on two years of competing due to COVID, I was determined to have an amazing season,” Dalvi said.

Coming into the season, only the four captains had extensive experience, meaning a major learning curve for the remainder of the team.

“We pushed forward, got people trained the best we could and ended up with a pretty awesome winning robot,” said Mallette, who will be studying mechanical engineering in college.

“I knew this season was going to be tough, however, I was surprised with how quickly everyone stepped up and got things done,” Dalvi said. “This team has worked extremely hard, and we have definitely surpassed my expectations. This is definitely going to be a season to remember.”

The team opened the season placing second and earning the innovation in control award at a competition in Waterbury. In its next competition in Shrewsbury, Mass., the team went undefeated and again won the innovation in control award.

D’Aulizio, as building and mechanical lead, spends most of his time machining parts for and assembling intakes, indexer, and shooter systems. Aside from just building, he is also responsible for repairing and maintaining the robot after matches and keeping it running during the event.

“It’s fun watching more than 40 giant robots run around and use all different types of techniques to do the same game,” he said. “It’s basically a show of all the team’s creativity and hard work. It doesn’t even matter if we win, just going to competition alone is a great time.”

“Our Shelton robotics pipeline is so successful and strong, and it gives you a great place to explore everything from programming and engineering to digital marketing and business,” Patel said about the team’s past performance.

Patel is the lead programmer on the team and works with some of the mentors to develop control systems.

“One of the challenges I faced this year was actually getting a solid grip on control systems because they require understanding physics, calculus, and programming,” she said. “But the guidance of the extremely skilled mentors on this team has allowed me to implement something I would learn in my second year of college.”

Patel said she loves the competitive aspect and team spirit forged as the season goes on.

“Coming in, this season was definitely going to be a learning experience for us,” she said. “Because of COVID, we had a crazy year last year since there were no in-person competitions and we did not have to build a robot.

“This year, half of the team is new students, and only four of us on the team had a full season of robotics, so we knew that there was going to be a learning curve,” she added. “However, the team far surpassed any expectations this year. I’m honestly so impressed with how much everyone has learned this year and how passionate they are.”

D’Aulizio, who will be attending the University of New Haven to study mechanical engineering, said the season has not come without challenges.

“One of our biggest problems we faced was a lack of design room,” D’Aulizio said. “We built ourselves into a corner early in the season, when we started designing a robot that we later discovered was not good for what we wanted.”

D’Aulizio said it was too late in the season for a total rebuild, so the team instead rebuilt each assembly to fit the frame they already had.

“This meant that certain parts, like the intake, are thinner than what we would have liked but we have managed to work around that in other ways,” he said.

“My expectations coming in this year honestly were not very high considering the two seasons we missed,” Mallette said, “But as time went on seeing the progression of everyone and the robot my opinion changed.”

Mallette is the team’s lead builder, spending most of his time machining parts for the robot as well as teaching the newer teammates how to use basic hand tools and machines around the shop like the milling machine, lathes, bandsaws, and drill presses.

“I spent a lot of time designing and building the climber for this year’s robot,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges our team faced this year was the skills gap created by missing two years of robotics seasons.”

Piccolo also praised the mentors who work alongside the students. She said the team works with mentors from Sikorsky Aircraft, Hubbell, Logicbroker, Lockheed Martin, and the Federal Communications Commission.

“These hardworking professionals give their time to teach our team members real world skills that spark in them an interest in engineering or programming that often leads them to their college majors,” she added. “This robot is one of the most advanced machines we have every created. Every year we learn new things and just get better. We have been building robots for 24 years now but every year it just gets better.”

Gaelhawks are currently fundraising for season. If anyone would like to donate checks can be made out to Shelton Robotics and sent to SHS, 120 Meadow St., ℅ Michele Piccolo.