Concord robotics gears up for FIRST competition

The students have six weeks.

Six weeks to build a robot from scratch.

For a college engineering student, that sounds like an arduous challenge; but for some eager high school students? It sounds like an almost impossible task.

However, the Concord High robotics team continues to work on their robot in preparation for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition on Saturday at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center Arena.

The robot must be able to perform three tasks: pick up a cone and place it on a pin; pick up a cube; and climb up a ramp while also being able to drive autonomously for the first 15 seconds of the game.

“The school likes to call this a cross-curricular event, but it goes way beyond that,” said Mark Sedutto, the team’s lead mentor, whose son Matthew is the team captain. “We’re dealing with some pretty heavy physics and engineering stuff.”

It’s not just Sedutto and President Maureen Cloutier who blindly tell the students what to do. You must have a deep understanding of how all technical components work.

“We’re really pushing these kids forward,” Sedutto said. “It’s important that they know what they’re doing because they’re going to be judged. …You must have the answers. They have to know what they did, which means they have to do it.”

“Everyone understands the big picture”

Matthew Sedutto has been involved with Concord robotics since fifth grade. As a junior, he oversees most of an operation that involves much more than just technology.

They have a design team, a rules team, a mechanical team, and an electrical team, as well as a media team that manages their social media platforms, and a business team that focuses on attracting sponsors.

“Being part of a FIRST team does not mean that you are a MINT child at all,” says the younger Sedutto. “It’s really cool that we could take any nerd out of school and they’ll have a place somewhere in robotics and they’ll feel welcome.”

This camaraderie inspires the cohesion of all involved. Just like a basketball team or a soccer team, everyone has their own roles that contribute to the greater success of the group.

Without that, it would be almost impossible to build a robot from scratch in a month and a half.

“Everyone understands the big picture,” said Sedutto. “They are really ready to play their team role and it all comes together very well.”

From Cloutier’s perspective as president, the skills students are acquiring through robotics will be easily transferrable after they move on to college and the workforce.

“They’re working on their computer skills, social interactions, mechanical skills, and leadership skills,” she said.

Concord’s “Tidal Force” – as they’re known – isn’t the only territory team gearing up for a robotics event. Groups from Pembroke Academy and Belmont High School are preparing for next weekend’s VEX Robotics Competition in Pembroke. Unlike the FIRST competition, this is a scrimmage in preparation for the world competition, so no points are awarded and no robots are judged.

Still, it’s an opportunity to get more practice using their robots and solve any problems that may arise. As Mark Sedutto explained, during a competition a team may only have 10 to 15 minutes between competitions. So if something needs to be repaired on the robot, there is not much time.

“A lot of that is leadership, it’s perseverance,” he said. “Success and failure in the real world are related to effort, not just participation.”

Sedutto has been the lead mentor for eight years, while Cloutier is in her sixth as the organization’s president.

The talent of her students is always impressive.

“If they feel they have achieved something and learned something, then everything is fine,” said Sedutto. “They are already way ahead of the game.”

He continued: “They are a group to be proud of. We like to say that this is the only sport where anyone can become a pro. And it’s true.”

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