If last year was a bit of a learning experience for Viera High School’s Hawks Robotics program working in its first year as an independent group, this is the year the students get to show off how much they’ve improved.
"I think we can be a lot better," senior Ryan Buchanan said. "Last year, it was the first season. We spent a lot of wasted time and resources just trying to work out the kinks. I think now, we’re coming back with more experience. We’ve got more team members, more resources.
"I think we can do significantly better."
This year’s game is called Infinite Recharge, which should provide quite a challenge for the Viera team known as Wingspan.
"There are yellow balls, called power cells, and you have to put them in a power port, which is on the opposite side of where the drivers are," sophomore Molly Walsh said. "They have to either cross through the middle, where there are 1-inch metal bars that will create an obstacle and slow down the robot.
"On the sides, there’s a trench where you can go under. It’s faster, but your robot has to be low. If you get a certain number of power cells (into the power port), you can go to a wheel by the trench and you can spin it a certain amount of times or spin it to a certain color.
"Then in the last 15 seconds of the game, you can hang from a bar. If you can balance the bar, then you get extra points."
The first competition is set to take place Feb. 26 to March 1 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. That will be followed by the Orlando Regional (March 11 to 14) at UCF. Should the team qualify in one or both events, it would then head to the FIRST Championship in Houston from April 14 to 19.
In the meantime, Wingspan is in its building season, which Viera teacher David Formanek, who serves as the director and head coach of the Hawks Robotics team, said is one of the best times of the year.
"The best way to describe the six-week build season is organized chaos … but good chaos," Formanek wrote in an email. "As an outsider looking in, it may appear as though we’re all running around aimlessly, but everyone knows what to do, they are collaborating, among different groups, and we’re all focused on the end result.
This year’s team is made up of Walsh (head of strategy); Buchanan (chief engineer); Parker Helms (head of software); Taylor Presley (head of finance); Kai Rodriguez (head of PR); Zack Knutson (head of safety); Sid Antoine; Jozee Banks; Alyssa Blood; Michael Brown; Alex Budko; Josh Carrizales; Caleb Cogan; Melania Currie; Erek Dibbern; Ethan Franklin; Evette Goldberg; Ale Gonzalez Nieves; Tristan Hera; Jake Howard and Rayyan Jamil.
Other team members include: Bri Loughran; Ryan Lynch; Abi Magiday; Richard Magiday; Kyra McGowan; Michael Miniclier; Ethan Moran; Eddie Pawlak; Elijah Shepard; Alex Sprunger; Angel Stahl; Isaiah Tadrous and Danny Zheng.
Helms, who believes he has become a better leader since the past year, said his biggest challenge will be "making sure everyone has something to do, that we don’t have people sitting idle and not doing anything so we can get stuff done as soon as possible."
Helping the students out will be a team of mentors that includes Formanek; Louis Antoine; Courtney Carlson; Jorge Gonzalez; Joe Helms; Madison Hickman; Mindy Howard; Shannon Lynch; Todd McDonald; John McGowan; Christian Morin Daniel Penny III; Donna Shearn; Bryan Walsh: Kelly Walsh and Erin Mitchell.
And of course, none of this would be possible without the support of sponsors such as Lockheed Martin; Collins Aerospace; L3 Harris; Florida Power & Light; Argosy Foundation; Datafirst; Kennedy Space Center International Academy; National Instruments; Brevard Public Schools; Solidworks and the State of Florida/Florida Atlantic University.
Formanek has been impressed with the way Wingspan has come together.
"I’m really proud of these kids, not just in who they are and how they work together, but also with how dedicated and committed they are to the program and to each other," he wrote. "It’s amazing, and sometimes, emotionally overwhelming, to see them grow personally and develop skills that take them through college, career and beyond."