Clovis News

Bird Brains ready their ‘bot: Buchanan High School’s world champion robotics team to participate in first tournament March 10-13

DOC XII shoots a ball through a target similar to the one that will be at competitions.
DOC XII shoots a ball through a target similar to the one that will be at competitions.

The Buchanan Bird Brains and their robot, DOC XII, are ready for their first competition of robotics season.

The 5th Central Valley Regional FIRST Robotics Competition will be held Thursday, March 10, through Sunday, March 13 at Madera South High School.

“It’s open to the public and it’s a really fun event,” said team spokesman Gary Giannoni. “I recommend going on Sunday. On Saturday there are a bunch of qualification rounds, but Sunday is when everything comes full-throttle.”

The Buchanan Bird Brains, also known as Team 1671, invited the public to an open house demonstration in Buchanan High School’s multi-purpose room last month, where they unveiled their 12th robot and explained this year’s challenge set by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.

FIRST Stronghold requires robotics teams to form two alliances of three teams each. The teams must breach their opponents’ defenses and capture their tower by firing foam balls at it and surrounding or scaling the tower using rungs. Points are awarded for each task. Each match is 2  ½ minutes long.

“In previous years there’s only been one set goal - like stack totes or throw that yoga ball through a hoop,” Giannoni explained. “This year you can get points in different ways, such as traveling over defenses multiple times or shooting into the goals.”

Time management has been a big challenge for the 80-member team. The students had 6  ½ weeks to design and build their robot. Then DOC XII was sealed in a plastic bag and can’t be opened until competition day.

In the meantime, the team is finetuning and testing their practice bot.

“We name our robots after (the late Clovis Unified founding superintendent, Floyd) ‘Doc’ Buchanan,” Giannoni said. “Our practice bot, Molly, is named after Doc’s wife.”

Molly has a climbing component that DOC XII does not. When the Bird Brains are allowed to open up DOC at Thursday’s competition, they will have a little bit of time to install anything new that they’ve tested on Molly.

“We can attach any new systems we’ve developed,” Giannoni said. “I think the biggest challenge we’ve had is trying to engineer an effective way of using our climbers. It’s really hard to hoist a whole 100-pound robot and not have it fall and break and shatter your dreams.”

The team has a big reputation to uphold. Team 1671 won the 2015 FIRST World Championship held in St. Louis, Missouri.

“This year, we wanted a competitive robot,” Giannoni said. “We want to be the best and we want to prove why we are world champions. That’s the real challenge is trying to live up to that name.”

The team aspires to be a model FIRST team by not only engineering a winning robot, but also by volunteering and being a resource to the community.

“On a robotics team, people think we just make robots, but it’s so much more than that,” Gionnoni explained. “A big part of FIRST is to educate the community and the younger generation about the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — what we call STEM — and we want to further it anyway we can.”

The team hosted the Central Valley LEGO Robotics Championships in February for elementary and middle school robotics teams.

Team members also volunteer at Clovis Botanical Garden and set up a booth at the Girls World Expo to encourage young ladies to look into careers in STEM fields, Giannoni said.

The Buchanan Bird Brains hope to launch Project C.U.R.I.E.(Clovis Unified Robotics Initiative for Engineering) to fund a robotics programs at each of Clovis Unified’s five high schools.

“The whole Central Valley is a very agricultural based society, economy and culture. But what we want to do is make the Central Valley the next technology hub — the new Silicon Valley,” Giannoni said. “But we need to start young, with the children here. What Project C.U.R.I.E. aims to do is support each of the five high schools in Clovis Unified by giving them each $20,000 a year for five years, a proper place ... dedicated solely to building robots, along with proper mentorship. It may seem like a farfetched idea, but we’ve already received $10,000 for this project from the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.”

A Project C.U.R.I.E. gala is planned for July to encourage further sponsorships.

The Bird Brains public relations team is working on writing grants and practicing the presentations they give to potential sponsors.

Meanwhile, the science and technology team is hard at work every day on this year’s Stronghold task.

Their shop is the Buchanan High School Energy Academy, which is open to the public from 3 to 5 p.m Monday through Saturday.

“This is where all the magic happens,” Giannoni said, describing the five subgroups that make up the team.

Some students work on computer-aided design, while others manufacture the robot’s parts, build the robot, wire the robot’s electrical systems and program the bot’s motions and actions.

Everything is created in-house. The shop contains several saws and other machines that students use to develop parts for the robot.

The team even built a CNC router, a computer-controlled cutting machine used for cutting wood, composites, aluminium, steel, plastics, and foam.

Previously, those intricate cutouts were sent to manufacturers, which cost the team money.

“I don’t think 20 years ago people would have thought that high school kids could make these complex machines,” Giannoni said. “In past generations there was welding and woodshop, but today we build life size robots.”

And, in this case, a machine to build said robots.

If You Go

What: Central Valley Regional FIRST Robotics Competition

Where: Madera South High School, 705 W. Pecan Ave., Madera

When: Opening ceremonies begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Qualification matches will be held from 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Saturday, with a one-hour lunch break at noon. An awards ceremony will be held at 5:45 p.m.

On Sunday, more qualification rounds and alliance selections will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. After lunch, final rounds will begin at 1:30 and last until 4:30 p.m., when the final awards ceremony will begin.