Every year, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) presents high school students with very specific problems and asks them to solve each one using robotics.
In Stronghold, this year’s Medieval-themed game, teams must figure out how to build a robot that, among other things, is expected to have the ability to cross “rough terrain,” open drawbridges, shoot “boulders” into high goals, and climb a tower, all while being able to fit under a bar that is only one foot and four inches high.
But for CaMOElot, the 2016 robot built by Wilmington’s Miracle Workerz (also known as MOE, short for Miracles of Engineering) there was a decidedly thornier obstacle this year.
Just consider the team’s full name, a shoutout to its biggest sponsor for 16 years: The DuPont Miracle Workerz.
To say that the Dow–DuPont merger has made an impact on the Miracle Workerz is an understatement, in the same way that saying the merger has made an impact on the state of Delaware is an understatement.
The Miracle Workerz meet and build their robots at DuPont’s Chestnut Run location in Wilmington. DuPont has historically been the team’s biggest sponsor, for a sport that is much too expensive for virtually any kid to participate in without corporate sponsorship. Most of the team’s mentors are (or, more commonly, were) DuPont employees.
Last fall, team leader John Larock stood in front of the team and kept a positive demeanor, but he had to be straight with them.
“We don’t know where we’ll be in a few months,” he said. “But we’ll be somewhere.”
Nearly six months later, the Miracle Workerz still have their space at Chestnut Run, at least for now. With a drop in funding from DuPont this year, mentors and parent boosters have hustled to find new sponsors, and companies, including Verizon and New Castle’s On-Board Engineering, have come through.
The upheaval was so severe that, at one point, the team was 10 days behind, in a build season of only six weeks. The team’s regular schedule of three nights a week plus Sunday afternoons is grueling enough during build season. To make up the time, students and mentors worked on CaMOElot seven days a week as the deadline approached, often coming in early or leaving late, until every aspect, from the CAD design to the welding, came together.
That the Miracle Workers have been able to rise to the challenge in this, of all years, is no small detail. For the Wilmington team, made up of over 40 students from over a dozen area high schools and about 20 adult mentors, the year itself has been a challenge.
But despite it all, CaMOElot has thrived.
It can shoot high, it can climb, it can cross barriers — and it has a pretty killer autonomous mode (the first 15 seconds of each two-minute match run on programming alone, with no human remote driver). It’s so good at solving the game’s challenges that it took home the division championship at the Seneca event in New Jersey in March, along with alliance partners Team Nemesis from Robbinsville, N.J., and Falcon Robotics from Metuchen, N.J.
That was followed by a strong showing at the Westtown event in West Chester (technical issues — all a part of competitive robotics — cost CaMOElot the ranking points it needed to dominate, despite only losing a single qualifying match).
MOE is a FIRST Hall of Fame Team. They won the FRC World Championship in 2001. Historically, they’re a winning team. But, as FRC has grown from a few hundred teams to several thousand worldwide in the past 15 years, the game has become more and more competitive and tougher to win, even for such a formidable squad.
Before this year, the Miracle Workerz had never won their first District event. It may not be the highest accomplishment for a world champion FRC team, but to pull it off this year, against the odds, has shown that this is a team that lives up to its name.
The Miracle Workerz will compete at the Mid-Atlantic Robotics District Championship at Lehigh University April 15-16, followed by the FIRST Championships in St. Louis (which they already qualify for as a Hall of Fame team) from April 27-May 1.