The 6346 Robotics Team including Norwalk High School students, Louis Cundari, Itzel Becerril, Benny Vasquez, Erik Criollo, Julie Turek, Derick Ruiz and Brigitte Arcoite at their new location at 25 Van Zant St. in Norwalk. The team recently lost their work space at the high school.
NORWALK — After a months-long search, the Norwalk High School Robotics Club has found at least a temporary home in East Norwalk, just in time for their season.
The team of roughly 20 students has started the conceptual phase of designing their robot, which will compete in a series of FIRST Robotics competitions, in a roomy unit at 25 Van Zant St.
“The space is great. Especially for this year’s challenge, we have room to test out a ramp,” said senior Julia Turek, the club’s captain, during a Wednesday evening meeting in the new space.
The room is being offered rent free for three months — which will get the club through its third season — as part of a deal offered by local real estate developer Winthrop E. Baum. The club has only to cover the cost of lighting and heat.
According to Beth Ann and Fred Karlehag, their son Mattias, now in his second semester of college at Clarkson University, started the club. The couple is still involved with the team and said the space is roughly double the size of the formerly-vacant room in the automotive wing of Norwalk High School basement, where it previously practiced.
The old space was cold, too cluttered to test the robot and often couldn’t be accessed by the members of the team, who, in the months before competitions often need to spend every night perfecting the design. The school took the space back for other purposes.
“If the school was closed, we were at the mercy of whether the janitor was there,” Beth Ann Karlehag said. She and her husband are still involved with the club in a mentorship role and spearheaded the efforts to find a new space, beginning in the fall.
The Van Zant Street space has heat, it’s own bathroom and plenty of space to drive the robot. The robot is is comprised of roughly 20 major systems and, depending on the year’s challenge, can be quite large. Fully extended, last year’s design reached 9 feet in height.
On Wednesday, several of Turek’s teammates were gathered around a television monitor, watching for the first time a YouTube video explaining the year’s challenge, called “Destination: Deep Space.” The parts for this season’s robot were picked up in early January. Teams will race against the clock to load their “cargo ship” and place hatch panels on their “rocket ship,” before returning to their area of safety. Once safe, the teams can earn more points by maneuvering their robot to the top of three-tiered podium.
After the video, Erik Criollo talked his teammates through early design plans, including a ramp that the robot could travel up. But the group will have to solve many physics problems — how much force will it take to move a robot up the ramp — before creating a prototype and then building and programming their robot.
For the first time this year, a group of professional volunteers is working with the team as mentors to conceptualize the design. Mechanical engineers from ASML in Wilton, one of the club’s largest donors, will aid the students as they think about different strategies to the “Deep Space” game. Pablo Aymerich, a software designer for Subway, will work with the students on programming the robot, which will require remote-controlled and autonomous movements to complete the challenge.
With the presence of experienced mentors and the new space, going into the first of two competitions, April 8, the club is confident that 2019 could be their best season yet. Despite the challenge of recruiting members to a club without a home, the robotics club had a successful fall season luring students interested in science. The club has nearly doubled in size and, though they are still in the market for permanent accommodations, it’s looking to make a name for itself.
“It’s hard because the Robotics Club isn’t that well known at Norwalk High School,” Turek said. “We’re fighting to get more recognition.”