Members of the Northern Force robotics team, made up of students from Falmouth and Gorham high schools, confer at the New England District Championship last month. Contributed / Meredith Greenlaw

Northern Force, the Falmouth High School/Gorham High School robotics team, won an award for industrial design at the FIRST Robotics New England District Championship late last month.

The 25-member team competed against 94 other teams over three days of competition and judging in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Northern Force worked since January to build an industrial-sized robot dedicated to playing and winning a field game designed by FIRST Robotics.

“The robot had to be capable of picking up cones and cubes and driving across a field very quickly,” freshman Connor Lund said.

The team analyzed the game, predicted gameplay strategies and used programs such as computer-assisted design to build its robot, Falmouth High School freshman Sara Tennent said.

“The district championship was a blast,” Tennent said. “It was great to see the final execution of our robot and the result of our work.”


Northern Force students present their robot. Contributed / Meredith Greenlaw

To win the industrial design award, Northern Force’s robot had to demonstrate industrial design principles, striking a balance between form, function and aesthetics. Contest judges noted the strict engineering process the team used to design and build the robot, Tennent said. They also liked its sleek and colorful aesthetic.

Gorham High School teacher Roger Lord started the team in 1996 and the team partnered with Falmouth High School in 2001. Professional engineers, programmers and designers provide guidance to the students.

“In essence, we use our study of robots to help prepare students to be ‘robot-proof,’ and able to handle the increasing levels of uncertainty and ambiguity inherent in a globalizing world,” coach Meredith Greenlaw said.

The team has entered a new era, Greenlaw said, both because of a change in coaches and new members. Greenlaw and her husband, Clare, both executives in the STEM field, took over as coaches this year, and last year’s team had many graduating seniors.

This year’s young team, however, was successful in their first district championship. They took awards at both competitions they entered this year, including the Excellence in Engineering award in early April.

“We wanted them to embrace a professional design and build process, try new things, and expose them to opportunities that they wouldn’t get in the classroom,” Greenlaw said. “They’ve grown substantially as problem solvers, leaders and students.”

While Northern Force did not advance to the world competition this year, there’s always next year. Tennent and Greenlaw both said they plan to continue with the team with the goal of competing at that top level.

“I’ve always been interested in STEM,” Tennent said. “I hope to advance my engineering.”

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