Mar. 14—Though the Fighting Mongooses were only able to participate in one competition during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season, members are keeping what worked well on last year's robot and improving what didn't this season.
"Usually, you build a brand-new robot every year, but we're not having to start from scratch, and since we got one competition in last season, we know how our robot performed (in action)," said Brian Cooksey, an adviser for the Fighting Mongooses, the Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy's FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics team. "Overall, our robot did very well, but we want to improve our climbing system and our intake system."
"Last year, our storage-and-shooting mechanism was not as efficient, (so) we want to cut down weight and (be able) to shoot at more than one target," said junior Kevin Rangel. Last season, "we could only shoot one, but this year we'll be able to shoot both."
Rangel has been on the mechanics team all three years he's been a member of the Fighting Mongooses, and he views it as "an exploration of creativity."
"You have a set of challenges to complete, (so) you brainstorm and create, (then) test, (then tweak)," he said. "You're constantly improving."
Freshman Amber Adams, a member of the build/fabrication team, also sees robotics as a creative endeavor.
"I love to do fabrication, building the robot," she said. "It's so creative, and I have a very big creative side."
"My dad works with construction, so I've built some things with him, like a table, and I love power tools," she added. "I like building and creating."
As the only female on the build team, she believes she provides a unique perspective.
"Girls have a different outlook," she said. "That perspective can be helpful when you're considering an item or looking for solutions to problems."
The 2021 season kicked off Jan. 9 with the release of this year's challenge, and competitions are virtual, rather than in-person events, due to the pandemic. Teams are asked to record themselves, then submit those efforts to judges during a window that opened in early February and closed recently.
"We're still just as committed, even with the pandemic, still learning and improving every day, still working hard," Rangel said. "We still have goals and aspirations we want to reach."
The 2021 FIRST Robotics Competition offers numerous skills challenges, an interview component with judges and "a piece where you can select any world (problem) and (explain) how to solve it," Cooksey said. Among the opportunities this year is an invitation to teams to design a game that could be utilized in a future year.
Rangel appreciates that FIRST is "taking inspiration" from participants with the game design challenge, he said. "It's a new way to engage teams."
This is the sixth season of robotics at the academy — more information on the squad can be found on its webpage through the academy's website, www.wcsga.net/ngca — and students "are learning things they can do as a career," said Cooksey, director of workforce development for Shaw Industries. "It's a great program."
"I want to go into engineering," Rangel said. "I love this."
On the team, members can choose their duties based on personal interest, which Adams appreciates, she said.
"Everyone is happy here because of that."