Francis W. Parker School's Robotics Team Advances to State Finals

By Justin Breen on January 20, 2014 8:17am 

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 The Francis W. Parker robotics team qualified for the upcoming state championships at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Francis W. Parker robotics team
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LINCOLN PARK — Robotics teams come up with quirky nicknames, like Optimus Primates, Fuzzy Logic, Circuit Breakers and Why Yes, That is PVC.

Since its 2003 founding, the robotics squad at Francis W. Parker School has been known as the Robotheosis for the Robotic Colonels.

The Colonels represent the school's official nickname. Robotheosis is a combination of robot and apotheosis, defined as "the perfect form or example of something."

"We're about a robot becoming perfection," said George Austin, a Parker Upper School science teacher for 17 years and robotics team founder.

Last month, the Parker team came closer to that goal by using a 15-pound, four-wheeled robot to win a regional competition at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The first regional victory in school history advanced Parker to Feb. 22's state championships, also at IIT.

The robot, which is about 30 inches high and wide, and utilizes a Wi-Fi remote control system, features a unique drive system that allows it to move in any direction without having to turn around.

"It allows for easy movement," said first-year head coach Meredith Card, of Lakeview.

The goal of competitions, sanctioned by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is to score as many points as possible using the robot to pass certain challenges.

In the regional and state finals case, that Parker robot will need to move 2-inch plastic blocks onto certain scoring areas in a playing field of sorts, raise a flag with a winder attached to the robot and have the robot do a "pull-up" by hooking itself to a bar and lifting itself over it.

All of this takes place in just more than two minutes of playing time.

"It's pretty high-adrenaline," said Cecilie Tassone, a 2010 Parker graduate and former co-captain who's now an IIT senior majoring in biomedical engineering.

Tassone, of Bucktown, said being part of a robotics club helped her learn technical skills for building the robot, but also "soft skills" like working with other people in a team setting.

 The Francis W. Parker robot (3507) in action at a regional tournament at the Illinois Institute of Technology
The Francis W. Parker robot (3507) in action at a regional tournament at the Illinois Institute of Technology
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Francis W. Parker School/George Austin

"Plus, it's a lot of fun," she said.

Parker freshman Rachel Gledhill shared Tassone's enthusiasm. Like many of her new teammates, Gledhill, of Lincoln Park, had zero robotics background. But Gledhill was amazed how quickly she learned the craft.

"We're all working together," Gledhill said. "And we all have the same end goal: to compete and do well."

The state finals won't be the only big meets in which Parker will be competing in 2014. For a pair of regional events, the Robotic Colonels are building a much larger robot, between 150 and 200 pounds, that will propel a large rubber ball 10 feet into the air.

Austin, of Jefferson Park and a Gordon Tech High School and University of Illinois graduate, passed the head coaching torch to Card this school year. Card, a South Carolina native, was a robotics whiz as a high schooler for Metal in Motion, which advanced to several national championships. When she heard about the robotics opening at Parker, she jumped at the opportunity.

"Since participating in robotics, I knew that at some point there would come a time where I could give back to the FIRST community," Card said. "And it's nice because I get paid to have fun."

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