ROCKLEDGE, FL – April 14, 2010 – Mainstream engineers said they are looking forward to working again with the Melbourne Central Catholic High School team in 2011 when it prepares for next year’s FIRST Robotics Challenge.
For the 2010 competition, four engineers, a graphics designer and machinist from Mainstream mentored approximately 15 students from Anne Giammo’s physics and computer science classes at MCC.
The FIRST challenge works like this. Teams of students get details of the competition at the kickoff, a live broadcast feed. They have six weeks to prepare for the competition. This year, the “Breakaway” challenge, announced on Jan. 9, 2010, has been to develop robots to play high-impact soccer, a variation on the traditional game. The MCC team was just one of 1,800 teams made up of 45,000 students worldwide.
Participation requires organization. Teams need sponsorship for the $5,500 entry fee. Given that teams receive only a basic kit of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and other components, but no instructions, they need mentors to help in designing, building, programming and testing their projects. Mainstream engineers and staff volunteered their time. The company provided a work space and tools.
“During the build season, progress was made slowly, but there was a huge learning curve for the students. Once that was passed, the team started to make some good progress. With the final week left, many of the parts and final pieces started to come together, and progress moved along quickly after several late nights,” said Peter Helmore, a mechanical engineer at Mainstream.
The MCC team placed 36th out of 54 teams in the regional competition held in Orlando, March 11-13, 2010.
“Considering there were five or six rookie teams at the competition, the team did pretty well for their first year,” Helmore said. “All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I think the kids got a lot out of it. I’m still in touch with the team, and we’re slowly starting to prepare for next year.”
In addition to Helmore, Mainstream mentors included engineers Tom Lasko, Dan Van Ness and Clayton Hose as well as senior graphic designer Rick Racich and machinist Kenny Reaume.
“It was good to be able to mentor the students and inspire them. The robotics challenge is an excellent way to encourage today’s high school students to consider science and engineering careers,. said Van Ness, a Mainstream aeronautical engineer.
FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, established in 1989 by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and the portable insulin pump, encourages students to get involved in the sciences.. The FIRST Robotics Competition began in 1992.
Mainstream Engineering Corporation, a leading research and development company specializing in thermal control and energy conversion, focuses on cost-effective engineering solutions for the commercial world. The company has in-house facilities to assure the transition of emerging technologies from the laboratory proof-of-concept experiments to extensive field tests and military and commercial use.
Mainstream president, Dr. Robert Scaringe, said the company was excited to provide technical support and mentorship to the high school students.
“Engineering is, among other things, a hands-on, build-it discipline where science, technology and innovation are put together to create something new,” Scaringe said. “Quite apart from class work, this type of competition allows students to get to the heart of engineering. The math and science are simply tools, means to an end. The excitement is in the creation of the invention. Competitions like this are critical because they give students a glimpse of what engineering is all about.”