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Fitchburg-Leominster Terrorbots in Final Tune-up for Competition

February 21, 2019 GMT

By Stephen Landry

slandry@sentinel andenterprise.com

LEOMINSTER -- It was crunch time on Tuesday for Team Terrorbots 3623, a group of local students and members of the Boys and Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster who are preparing to take part in the First Robotics Competition next month.

Tuesday marked the end of the team’s six-week build period, and was the last chance members had to put any finishing touches on their robot before the competition.

“Teams are forced on a pretty tight deadline to get these robots built to do something that you don’t always necessarily know how to do immediately,” said program coordinator Jacob Janssens, who has been taking part in the robotics competition for 11 years. “Picking up a ball seems pretty easy for us humans, but you’ve got to make it so the robot can do it without you doing anything other than pressing a button.”

The theme for this year’s contest was “Deep Space,” and teams were tasked with designing a robot that could pick up a hatch, carry it several feet and place it over an open hole, thus “sealing” the hatch. Another option included programming the robot to pick up an orange kickball as “cargo” and placing it inside the hatch. Ambitious teams could opt to design a machine that could do both tasks, but Janssens said his team decided to just to the first one, in the hopes that other teams would spread themselves too thin by taking on too much.

Team of 12

“There have definitely been more difficult years, but there have also been significantly easier years,” Janssens said.

The team of 12 students will be competing against other New England teams next month in two separate competitions in Shrewsbury and Bedford, N.H. If successful, they will move on to District Championship in Worcester, and then the World Championship in Detroit, where they would compete against about 400 teams from across the globe.

Team Captain Eric Jenny said he is hopeful about his team’s chances, but remains aware they were facing some stiff competition.

“It feels kind of iffy this year,” Jenny said. “Two years ago, we felt pretty solid. Last year, we were kind of up in the air, but this year is a weird feeling because we don’t know if we’re bad or if we’re good.”

Still, Jenny said he’s confident his team did a good job at analyzing this year’s task and developing a workable strategy to conquer it, especially by focusing on a single challenge as opposed to both.

“I think what happens when there’s two (tasks), teams want to do everything and wind up trying to do too much,” Jenny said. “But since we’re just trying to do the hatch panel, I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”

The rules of the competition require that teams spend no more than $5,500 on their robots, with no single piece of equipment costing more than $500. Team Terrorbots 3623′s robot -- which remained unnamed on Tuesday -- came in way under budget with a price tag of around $1,000. Funds for the machine and other costs, including entry fees, came from a number of sponsors, including Boston Scientific and the Department of Defense’s STEM program.

Follow on Twitter @Landry17Stephen.