He might not have the name recognition of R2D2 or C3PO, but “Falgor,” a 5-foot-tall robot, has something those two Hollywood robots don’t: a mean jump shot.

Falgor, a robot assembled by a team of local high school students, has hit 20 of 25 shots from distances of up to 20 feet away from the goal.

Assembling a maze of wires, sensors, switches and motors in a metal framework, a team of high school students has created a robot ready to play. Northern Force Team 172, a team of 50 high school students from Gorham and Falmouth, will enter a Falgor in a regional robot competition March 2 through March 4 in Manchester, N.H. There, Falgor will shoot it out with other robots in three-on-three basketball.

“This is applied science, taking what you’ve learned and creating something,” said Lori Arsenault, a parent and robotics coordinator for Gorham High School. “These kids are doing pretty advanced work.”

Arsenault’s son, Dale Edwards, a Gorham freshman, said Falgor, which moves on wheels, has the capability of driving over a ball and picking it up from the court. Then, the ball is conveyed upward into a hopper on top of a piston that raises it to a turret that fires the ball at the goal.

Falgor has a camera as an eye, linking up with a light over the goal, that guides the trajectory of the ball. In the regionals, Falgor will aim shots at a 30-inch circular hole in a glass backboard. The center of the goal is 10 feet up.

Making the ball in the goal scores three points, while hitting one of two floor-level goals on both sides of the center goal scores one point. The court will be 26 by 54 feet, and Falgor must be able to climb onto a raised platform under the goal.

The team was optimistic, as it fine-tuned Falgor Monday for the competition. “We’ve made many, many goals,” said Edwards, who helped design Falgor’s remote control board, which he hopes to operate in the regionals.

‘A monster’

The robot project got underway last month. Richard Burt of Gorham, one of the team’s mentors, said the team received the challenge in January along with a box of parts from the competition sponsors. A Gorham High School graduate in 1996 who is now a mechanical engineer at Lanco Assembly Systems in Westbrook, Burt said the team had to figure out how to build the robot that could score goals.

Using mechanical and electrical engineering and computer programming skills, the students created Falgor in the plant at Lanco. The team worked under a six-week deadline, and, according to competition rules, Falgor was shipped Tuesday to New Hampshire.

The robot has to weigh no more than 120 pounds and can be no taller than 5 feet. Falgor won’t be allowed to go airborne to score. “Definitely no slam dunking,” joked Chan Sinnett, a Falmouth parent.

Sinnett, a team mentor who is an engineer at Idexx, praised the school robotics program. “The hands-on process is just wonderful,” Sinnett said.

Kevin Porter, a Gorham sophomore, helped wire Falgor. He said the robot has 300 feet of wire in two sensors. However, the robot had “probably triple that overall,” according to Porter.

Powered by a motorcycle battery, four electrical motors, each weighing three pounds, drive Falgor. Phil Hodgkins, a Gorham High School senior, worked on Falgor’s motor assemblies and drive system.

“It’s powerful, it’s a monster,” said Hodgkins. But he acknowledged the competition would be tough.

Trimming the fat

“Making the weight” was the biggest problem, according to Matt King, a Gorham freshman who assisted with Falgor’s computer programming along with James Gregoire, a Gorham sophomore.

Hodgkins said Falgor was a little top heavy. The team trimmed Falgor’s weight late Monday, making necessary adjustments to ensure Falgor would meet the weigh-in.

Surrounded by students manning screwdrivers, files, hacksaws, drills and heat guns, Falgor was on a workbench much of the day Monday. The team replaced a six-pound motor that powered the launcher with a three-pound one.

King, Gregoire and Alex Karantza, a senior at Windham High School who is a guest programmer on the team, eyed a laptop screen on Monday as others tinkered with Falgor. Karantza hoped time would allow enough final testing Monday night before putting Falgor in a crate.

“I’m anxious to get a chance to try it out,” Karantza said after the late changes. “I’m confident we’ll make it work.”

Sam Blunda, a team mentor who graduated from Gorham High in 2003, said the team put a lot of effort into the project. The team worked until midnight on Saturday and returned at 9 a.m. on Sunday. The team worked all day Monday into the early morning hours Tuesday.

“It’s a tense six weeks,” said Blunda, now a junior studying technical education at the University of Southern Maine. “The students did most of the work.”

Strategy

Ed Feibel, a Gorham parent with a son, Ted, and a daughter, Alison, on the robotic team, is the team’s strategy mentor. But planning strategy for the regional competition isn’t easy because they don’t know who their robot teammates or opponents will be in the three-on-three matchups.

The matches will be two minutes and 10 seconds. After first operating for 10 seconds autonomously by programming, the robots will be under student control during three 40-second periods.

Ed Feibel said Falgor has about a 120-degree shooting range. “I think our sweet spot is an arc 18 to 20 feet out,” said Feibel, who was armed with a tape measure as the team made late adjustments. “It seemed surprisingly accurate.”

Anastasia Miliano, a Gorham High senior, helped design Falgor’s conveyor system and the launcher that shoots the balls. She and her teammates are eager to go to Manchester. “I want to see the other robots,” she said.

Arsenault, who is administrative manager at USM’s School of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology, said the “pit crew” would leave for New Hampshire at 6 a.m. on Thursday, March 2.

“Thursday is practicing and shake down,” Arsenault said.

No robot war

The rest of the team will leave after school on Thursday. They’ll have a pizza dinner at a hotel Thursday evening and meet other robotic teams.

Qualifying rounds will be Friday, March 3, and Saturday morning, March 4. The finals will be Saturday afternoon. The event is held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, and admission is free.

Cheryll McKinnon, a Falmouth volunteer, said winners would compete in a national championship in April in Atlanta.

Arsenault, who has another son, Sean Edwards, a Gorham senior, also on the team, said the competition is about sharing tools and knowledge with other teams.

“The buzzword is gracious professionalism,” Arsenault said. “It’s not about a robot war.”

Northern Force Team 172 has a slate of corporate sponsors, including Lanco Assembly Systems, Idexx, Fairchild Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard, National Semiconductor and TD Banknorth. FedEx shipped Falgor free.

The robotics program is expensive and cooperation between Gorham and Falmouth high schools makes the program financially possible. The entry fee for the regional competition is $6,000. Arsenault said the volunteers have raised $11,500, and the team needs another $2,000 to cover all of its expenses, which are estimated to at about $14,000.

Those wishing to help can contact Gorham High School or Arsenault at 415-1979 or e-mail [email protected]

The robotic team has a website www.NorthernForce.org


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