Wilton robotics team heads to world championships

WILTON — For the past seven years, Wilton Library’s robotics team, Singularity Technology, has inched closer and closer to the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championships and this year the team not only clinched a spot but it came in first at the state competition and will be heading to Detroit next month.

How does it feel? “It feels pretty fantastic,” Rishabh Raniwala, a Wilton High School senior, said last Friday at the library’s Innovation Station where the group meets regularly.

“For the last two years, we’ve come close. Last year, we came in third and the year before that, we came in fourth,” he said of the state competition.

Teammate Alex Cameron noted that each of those years the team got nipped by the rules. When they came in fourth, three teams advanced, and when they came in third, the rules changed to allow only two teams to advance.

But when you come in first, that’s it, there’s no holding back.

Singularity Technology as a whole won the Inspire Award at the state competition, which is the highest award a team can win, making it the top team in Connecticut.

In the FIRST Tech Challenge, students in grades 7 through 12 compete head to head by designing, building, and programming a robot to compete against other teams.

Another team member, Navod Jayawardhane, explained that when the season starts in September, each team receives a video that explains what the challenge is and how a team may score points by programming its robot to complete certain tasks.

This year, the team’s robot had to collect yellow plastic blocks from one end of a 12-foot-square field and then carry and stack them at the other end. Using two smartphones and an Xbox controller, the team was able to direct its robot to collect and stack blocks and place them in the designated area. What team members are working on now is improving the robot’s performance so they can collect and stack blocks more quickly and efficiently.

“We have an intake system,” Navod explained that employs spinning wheels that draws the block in. Then a claw mechanism grabs it and can lift it up and deposit it.

That task is known as a driver-controlled challenge. There is also what’s known as an autonomous challenge.

In the competition the autonomous challenge involved six “stones” that were actually plastic blocks. Two of them are specially marked “sky stones.” The stones are positioned based on the roll of the dice by a referee. The robot’s phone takes a picture of the layout and then sets out to find the sky stones.

At the state competition the team successfully collected one sky stone and is hoping to collect two for the championship.

From scratch

The team’s robot, which does not have a name, is built from scratch beginning in September. The main builders were Navod and Alex.

“We did a redesign Oct. 15, which is not unusual,” Rishabh said, and had the basics completed in January.

Of their design, he said, “the dual slide system is unique. It goes horizontally and vertically.”

They also did something new this year with the panels on the robot’s drive train. Sacred Heart University allowed them to use its water jet cutter to make a more intricate design.

For the world championships, where some 400 teams will compete from April 29 through May 2, the team is working on installing new wheels “that are smoother and grippier. We hope it will move faster and more accurately,” Rishabh said. The wheels allow the robot to not only move forward and backward but also from side to side.

They are also making coding changes to the robot’s internal GPS to help it better determine its position on the field.

“To say we are proud of these kids is an understatement,” said Susan Lauricella, Makerspace and teen services manager. “They meet twice a week throughout the school year, they work together as a team, and some of them have been together for years. Their diligence, tenacity, perseverance and dedication have been evident throughout their time together. They’ve worked really hard for this accomplishment and it has paid off.”

The Inspire Award is presented to the team exhibiting dedication and professionalism. The FIRST judges take into account not only the team’s technical achievements, such as producing a superb engineering notebook, but it also acknowledges the team’s overall development — working with other teams, empathy, leadership and respect for others.

That fits into Singularity Technology’s mission.

“A lot of what we do is community outreach, promoting STEM,” Rishabh said. “We’ve done presentations at the Cider Mill and Middlebrook science fairs. Any group that wants to hear from a robotics team, we would love to do that.”

Singularity Technology is made up of two divisions, the main team and the Test and Prototype (TAP) team, which is made up of younger students who will eventually move up to the main team. In fact, last Friday members of the main team spent the afternoon mentoring the younger students on various aspects of robotics.

Wilton Library first formed Singularity Technology in 2013 and to date it is still the only library-based team in the state of Connecticut. This year’s main team members are seniors Rishabh Raniwala, Rohit Singal, Navod Jayawardhane, and Alex Cameron. Navod, Rishabh and Rohit are seniors who have been on the team together since eighth grade, so this is a particularly special time for them.

The TAP members are Aarushi Agrawal, Edwin Gregory, Chris McCann, Rishab Ohri, Ria Raniwala, and Shayna Wilson-Spiro.

Besides Lauricella, the team’s other mentors include Tom Abend, Paul Lauricella and Thomas Kozak, who have been with the team throughout its seven-year development.

The idea of a library robotics team came to fruition when Susan’s husband, Paul, a software engineer and former commercial pilot, lamented that “there isn’t a library program for teens who liked engineering nerd stuff.”

Singularity Technology will be going to Detroit mainly on the funds raised throughout the year with bake sales and its “Destroy Your Hard Drive” fundraiser held each November. Anyone wishing to support their effort and spur the team on may send donations payable to Wilton Library to Susan Lauricella at Wilton Library, 137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897, marked “for robotics team.”