The Ithaca High School robotics team, Code Red Robotics, is officially in build season for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition. As much as the club is about building robots, team members can attest to the opportunities Code Red offers for students and community members to get involved in STEM research and projects.
Code Red Robotics, now in its 20th year as a team, started back in 2001 as a FIRST robotics club. The team is led and composed of Ithaca High School students, guided by teachers and community mentors. Every year, Code Red members complete thousands of hours of community service and work to create a 125-pound robot, designed to play a complex game against other robots.
Though Code Red is a high school club, the experience is not unlike those in post-high-school science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields, which has been a consistent draw for current and past team members and inspired a love of STEM in community members as well.
“Build season is actually very similar to a professional engineering work environment, and I think that really prepares students for a future career in STEM,” said President Sara Xin. “It creates a bunch of opportunities to work with people who are already working in the industry.”
Ian Krywe, faculty advisor for Code Red, said he’s glad Ithaca High School has such a team to provide a way for students in his and others’ classes to further explore classroom subjects.
“It’s an amazing extension of what we can do in the classroom, and we can only do so much during the day,” Krywe said. “A lot of it is theory, and then for the kids who really dig into the theory and want to learn more, they can join a club like this, and this is a prime example of what they’ll see in the real world.”
Public Relations Officer Andrew McCracken explained that the Code Red team, consisting of over 60 students, is divided into sub-teams, including the media, computer-aided design (CAD), indexer, acquisition, shooter, drive and vision teams. This helps keep the team efficient, acting as the parts that contribute to a greater whole.
“As a team, we are separated, and we all do different things, but they all contribute to making something like this possible,” McCracken said.
All those teams work to create the final robot, and it’s been all hands on deck for a few weeks now. On Jan. 4, FIRST released the rules for the FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) game Infinite Recharge, kicking off build season for Code Red. Build season lasts for six weeks in which the team designs, prototypes and tests its robot. Competitions begin in March.
McCracken and others said that though Code Red has performed well in past competitions, last year’s FRC did not go so well for the team, with the robot performing below expectations and ultimately breaking down before it could finish the competition. However, the team is determined to learn from the experience and not let the same thing happen again.
“After build season last year, we looked at what we’d done, … and we saw that there were a number of problems with the way that we did things, especially not following our schedules as closely as we could, not coordinating within teams, deciding things from the top,” McCracken said. “As a result, the design of the frame was constantly changing in very small ways that were messing up systems all the way up until week five out of our six-week period.”
Xin said she’s optimistic about this year because the team is truly taking the lessons from last year to heart, and she believes their hard work could take them to the championships in this year’s competition.
“This year, a lot of our team members have a new motivation,” Xin said. “Once we win our regional, we can go to the world championships. And so, everyone’s really hoping to do well, and I think that with that motivation, we’ve really been on track with things.”
Krywe shares Xin’s confidence in the team, adding that the leadership team has shown significant progress.
“The team is awesome,” Krywe said. “We grew a lot since last year. We had a young team in terms of student leadership, and they’ve grown up, and they’ve grown up tremendously. And they’re a lot more confident, a lot more knowledgeable, and I have high expectations for the team.”
Build Team Manager Emily Klaben said seeing the entire team joined under the same interests and goals makes for an interesting journey for everyone involved.
“I love seeing us go from design at the very beginning, just getting the game and seeing what ideas some people come up with because since we’re such a big club, there’s so many different ideas,” Klaben said.
The effects of Code Red are far-reaching, with each club member completing 24 hours of community service every year, the team helping to create nearly 30 Junior FIRST Lego Leagues (elementary tech teams) and the annual Open House helping to draw over 400 community members into the club and its mission.
That Open House is crucial for bringing in new members, like it did for Drive Coach Emma Hagen.
“I went to the club’s open house in seventh grade, and that’s when I first really fell in love with the club,” she said. “I’ve been doing it all four years of high school, and it’s been the highlight of my high school career.”
Outreach efforts also helped bring in Adam Newhouse, IHS alumnus and current mentor for the team, as a club member when he was a student. Since then, he’s seen the club continue to inspire a love of STEM in the community, going so far as to help other area teams do well.
“It’s part of the gracious professional part,” Newhouse said. “You want to be competitive, but you also want everyone to have a fair shot at getting on the field and competing. It’s better when everyone’s out there.”
Mentor Mike Krish said that the club and its team is very open to new members and every member is valued.
“You’re just as important as a freshman as you are as a senior,” Krish said. “There are no barriers. … You see so many kids grow so much from when they come in.”
Many Code Red members expressed how important Code Red is for them and how much being a part of a team has helped them grow as a student.
“I like the team mentality,” Hagen said. “We’re all working very, very hard every minute of the day, and it’s more like a family than a club because we spend so much time together.”
The team’s annual community Open House is Saturday, Feb. 8, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Ithaca High School cafeteria and technology wing. The event is free and highlights the work that Code Red Robotics does every year, complete with tours, activities for attendees and opportunities to talk with team members.
In addition, the Open House features several area organizations like the IHS Technology Department, the Cornell Nanoscale Facility, the Society of Women Engineers and Agua Clara, which will showcase some of their work for the community.
For further information about FIRST, Jr. FIRST Lego League and Code Red Robotics, please email email@example.com or go to the team website (www.team639.org) and the FIRST website (www.firstinspires.org).
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