Michelle Aberle (far left) and a few of the team members in the engineering room at Long Beach Polytechnic High School stand ready to load up the robot (bottom right) to take to the Pomona Fairplex.
Story and Photos by Cris Rivera
LONG BEACH, Calif. – When one walks inside what used to be a storage facility in the engineering room at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, they might be overwhelmed with all the tools and sawdust on the work table in the center of the room. Maybe the 3-D printer catches their eye. That is, until they notice a 100-plus pound robot built by students.
Poly has a burgeoning robotics team and their members are confident they can compete with the best. The team calls itself the ‘Poly Rabbotics,’ a wordplay on their high school mascot, the jackrabbit.
“You do a lot more than just build a robot,” sophomore Alex Reams said. “You learn about getting donations, community outreach, graphic design modeling the robot, and stuff that you learned from multiple fields in the real world.”
The team started in the spring of 2017 with the goal to participate in robotics competitions in 2018.
“We started it up and we had tremendous interest from kids and probably had over a hundred to begin with. Once school started it’s dwindled and now is probably at around 30,” said Michelle Aberle, science teacher and mentor to the team. “It’s stunning if you’ve never seen a robotics competition; they don’t look like R2-D2, but they have a platform and do all kinds of crazy stuff.”
The new team – a majority of members being underclassmen – hoped they’d to do well in their first ever competition which happened March 15-17 at the Pomona Fairplex as part of the Los Angeles regional.
First in the competition are the qualifying rounds in which alliances of three randomly selected teams work together to to gain points. In the regional, Poly Rabbotics finished with a record of 6-3 and won the Rookie Inspiration Award.
Poly junior Naveed Torabzadeh believes the robotics team allows students to use the knowledge they have been learning in classes and applying it outside of books, homework assignments and tests.
“It’s just applying what we know and what we’re learning in class,” Torabzadeh said. “This is something we’re actually passionate about. Some people may not be interested in what we’re learning in class and then you take the engineering principles you learned and make something you actually care about.”
Founded in 1989, the high school-based competition features various challenges where different teams unite and compete to gain the most points in order to advance. Teams are given just six weeks to build and complete their robot before the competition.
Each year, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) creates a new challenge and teams are awarded points when they complete the challenge. In addition to getting experience with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), any participant in the competition becomes eligible to apply for an array of scholarships that in total add up to over $50 million.
A FIRST representative acknowledges the importance of the competition in exposing students to STEM by giving them the opportunity to compete against others at a young age in hopes that they will develop a passion for it in their endeavors.
“The organization is really trying to get a program in every school because STEM education is absolutely crucial for young kids,” said Eileen Khan, a community engagement leader at FIRST. “Unless we start preparing the kids for a future that includes STEM we are failing them.”
One of the most challenging aspects of competing in robotics is raising the money to fund the building of a robot for each competition.
While Poly Rabbotics already has a few sponsors and grant support – like all the other teams competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition – teams are required to raise a portion of the money on their own.
“Raising money is an ongoing thing because unfortunately building a robot is really expensive,” Aberle said. “It’s a couple thousand dollars for every competition.”
The team is constantly looking for donations and sponsors to fund their competitions. Sponsors can get their logo on the team shirts and on the robot itself.
“This is the youth of America, this inspires such passion and they learn so much and they give back,” Aberle said. “They go to college and they become mentors for robotics at all different levels to promote STEM education and its education at its finest.”
To find out more or contact the team, visit their website.