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NASA Awards Second Annual Grant to Gunnery Robotics Team

NASA has awarded a $5,000 grant to the robotics team at The Gunnery, which will be participating in the 2019 FIRST® Robotics Competition. This is the second consecutive year that NASA has awarded a grant to The Gunnery. Its robotics team, known as The Gunnery Gears, was one of just two teams in Connecticut to receive Program Growth Grants from the NASA Robotics Alliance Project for the 2019 season. Two additional teams in the state received Sustaining Grants from NASA.
The grant awarded to The Gunnery will be applied to the cost of registration in the FIRST® Robotics New England District Competition set for March 15 to 17 at Bedford High School in Bedford, New Hampshire, and at a second competition, April 5 to 7 at Hartford Public High School.

The Gunnery’s second-year team is comprised of 17 students, from freshmen to seniors, and includes six veterans from the 2017-2018 academic year. All of the team members are enrolled in the robotics courses offered as part of The Gunnery’s engineering program, known on campus as IDEAS (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Applied Scholarship). Classes meet four times per week throughout the winter term and are taught by Monte Blaustein, a member of the science faculty and Director of the IDEAS Program, and Ed Small, the Anne S. and Ogden D. Miller Senior Master and a member of the math faculty, who also serve as mentors for the robotics team.

In addition to learning from the experience of veteran team members, the second-year team has the advantage of being able to use last season’s robot as a prototype that they can study, learn from, and even practice driving. “We had a lot of lessons learned. We’re going to take advantage of the next two weeks to become more adept at the skills we will need to build the robot,” Blaustein said. “For example, the group that’s doing the electrical and pneumatics will look over last year’s robot, determine what parts they will need, and start to lay out a generic control system that will be modified when we learn what this year’s project is.”

According to FIRST Robotics, all teams have just six weeks to design, build and program a robot to complete a specific series of tasks during competition. Participants will get a first look at what their robots must do on January 5, 2019, when FIRST Robotics kicks off this year’s challenge, “Destination: Deep Space,” live on Twitch at 10 a.m. That’s when the clock really starts ticking.

In the meantime, Blaustein said members of The Gunnery Gears will be using of modified version of the Stanford design school curriculum to become better designers. As part of a five-step process, students will be asked to empathize with their customer (or in the case of the robot, their goal), clearly define their objective, brainstorm ideas, sketch a prototype, and test their design so they can learn from it. This same process is being utilized by students in the school’s Building Design class, who are designing a new dormitory for The Gunnery campus based on actual requirements. It would house 56 students and include seven faculty apartments.

“This is just one example of how we are sharing  information and problem-solving approaches across the IDEAS curriculum,” Blaustein said, noting that in robotics, students also are applying what the Construction Management class learned this fall about what it’s like to work on a project with multiple teams. Each student on the robotics team has been assigned to one of six subteams, which are working on various aspects of the robot design and will chart their progress over the course of six weeks. These subteams will oversee everything from the computer programming and electrical and pneumatic systems required to make the robot move, to the bumpers that will protect it from collisions with other robots in “the pit,” to fabricating parts using the CNC machine and 3-D printer in the IDEAS center, and final assembly. There is even a team assigned to “adding a cool factor” to the robot’s appearance, by enhancing the design with color and lights, and promoting the team via social media, he said.

While all of the school’s IDEAS courses continue to surge in popularity among current and prospective students, the size of the robotics team alone increased 55 percent over last year. “There are a lot of students who want to be in it because of last year. They know it’s fun, and there’s a competitive aspect to it,” said Blaustein, who is already working on plans to offer a yearlong engineering course in the 2019-2020 academic year.
 
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gps address: 22 Kirby Road, Washington, CT 06793
mail address: 99 Green Hill Road, Washington, CT 06793
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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.