GaelHawks place second in Robotics World Championship

Shelton High School robotics team, the Gaelhawks, placed second in their division at the World Championship in St. Louis this season.

John Niski, robotics advisor and athletics director at SHS, talked about the championship, the team and the benefits of learning robotics.

The Gaelhawks, Team 230, was partnered with Team 133 “Bert” from Maine. Niski said the robotics has one overall winning alliance. In order to get to the winning alliance, there were eight sub-teams competing against each other. Each one of those sub-teams has seventy five teams. The Gaelhawks came in second in one of their subdivision, the Carver subdivision.

The robotics program has been at SHS for the 18 years. Niski said he has been with the program since it began, and he discussed its mission.

“Our overall mission is to create excitement for science and technology and by building a robot in six weeks, that's one of the things that we do,” Niski said.

They cannot plan their robot before the challenge. Everyone finds out what the challenge is on the same day, and they have only six weeks to build a robot to compete. He said there are 32 students in the robotic team, nine engineer mentors and one teacher; along with, parents, alumni, and other volunteers. SHS is the only high school in the area that has a robotics team.

Niski said the team built a very competitive robot this year, Talon XVII, and went on compete in three different New England district events: in Waterbury, Connecticut; in Dartmouth, Massachusetts; and in Lewiston, Maine. They also went to the New England Championship, which was held in Hartford Connecticut.

Niski said the Gaelhawks were recognized at the Waterbury District event and the New England  District Championship for the  Chairman's Award, which he said is the most prestigious award that the organization gives.

“It recognizes the team that all other teams should emulate: the team that has a good solid robot, has good sponsorship relationships, the team that has good mentor relationships, and the team that has good community involvement,” Niski said. “Our students get to work side by side with engineers from industries after school on a project here. They learn exactly what the engineering project is like.”

Niski said there are students on the team who may not specifically want to build robotics but like to apply their skills to helping the programs. He said those students can also build other skills besides learning about robots. He said some students work on business plans, websites, and public relations materials such as photography, brochures, and t-shirts to promote events.

There are also some students involved in the programming aspect. All the students get certified in tool use and basic components in robotics, but some children will not do programming.

The robotics program starts in middle school with the Lego League. He said students can start in high school robotics Team as early as freshman year and can start in the competitive league. He said every kid at every level has an opportunity to contribute to the program.

Niski discussed some of the benefits of students joining the robotics program. He said the robotics program teaches students enterprising, and they will have to have a general understanding of the organization. The team also performs community outreach.

Some of the outreach includes mentoring 4 FIRST Lego League (FLL) teams, hosting Shelton Robotix FLL Regional Qualifier for 28 area teams, hosting CT State FLL Championship for 48 qualifying teams across Connecticut, and rolling out the “Hour of Code” event to every school in the Shelton Public School system.

The team also teaches C++ programming workshops, attends Shelton Day, Soupstock, Relay for Life, Sikorsky Family Day, Camp Sikorsky-Robotics Merit Badge.  At some of the events, they set up their robot so people can see it.

Making robots, sharing robots, competing, but what is the future of robots for someone in the trenches of knowledge?

Niski said what the students are doing now is the same stuff put in autonomous car. An autonomous car (I had to ask) is a car that you put in the destination and it goes. He with the learning the basics of robotics, many of the students will study robotics; along with, mechanical engineering, business, and even education after teaching the younger students.

Does Niski think robots becoming a part of our regular life?

“Absolutely,” he said. We won't see robots in the same Sci-fi fashion or like the  Jetsons we will see them in our homes and cars, he said.

Niski said the biggest area for robots will be in sensor such as with security cameras, with controlling temperatures and lights, and the automation in home. He said he could also see robots making things more efficient such as cars and other transportation

We can end up driving robots, Niski said. We wouldn't be driving a car, but one day just command the robot and it will drive the car on command for us. All this, he said will be made possible by what students are learning now

“These kids, the ones we are working with, these kids are the kids that will change the world, they really are,” he said. “They're ‘gonna’ put all that stuff in motion. And we are really excited about it. We got some great kids.”