AYER -- What has two arms, can catch a ball across a field and run around a track?

It's the "Andromeda One" robot originally designed and constructed by the Ayer Shirley First Robotics Club (FRC Team 4905.) The 2013-2014 rookie FRC team is 23 students strong.

The team motto is "Let's build something amazing!" Its mission: We strive to learn and grow as a diverse team of students, professionals and parents as we work together to build a robot that will bring pride to our team, our school and our community.

The Ayer Shirley First Robotics Team partners with sponsors such as NASA, Consigili, Boston Scientific, BAE Systems and ECI Technologies.

Students gain from their mentors through positive role modeling and they learn job skills, problem-solving skills and life skills, opening doors to internships, colleges, scholarships and jobs.

During the 10th Annual Janis Bresnahan Run for Education, members of FRC Team 4905 exhibited Andromeda One. The robot is capable of grabbing a ball, pushing the ball into a goal and passing the ball, and it can defend and block goals. It was even seen racing ahead of the club members around the Ayer Shirley High School track in between races.

Club members set up a two-purpose tent during the event. On one side, children could creatively build structures out of mini-marshmallows and toothpicks, and on the other side, they sold energy-efficient light bulbs as a means of fundraising.


FRC Team 4905's philosophy includes rules for brainstorming that welcome everyone's ideas, helping and supporting other robotic teams during competitions, maintaining a safe working environment and having a positive impact on themselves as students and on the community overall. The club is working to meet certain objectives, such as having STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) classes added to the Ayer Shirley High School curriculum over the next three years and increasing the number of students accepted into STEM majors in college.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) organization, founded in 1989, prides itself on its leadership in the scientific arena and its commitment to building a strong foundation for the country's future workforce. There are multiple levels of FIRST competitions designed for different age groups, including the Junior FIRST LEGO League for elementary school students, the FIRST LEGO League for middle school students and two high school level progams: the FIRST Robotics Competition and the FIRST Tech Challenge.

Designed to immerse high-school students in both engineering skills and life skills, the annual FIRST Robotics Competition's goal each year is to supply an objective to teams of students who have six weeks to conceptualize, design, build and test their robotic solution. Once the six weeks have passed, robots are transported to the competition site where teams go head-to-head in a series of two-minute qualification and elimination rounds during a three-day competition. The robot that scores the most points during the two minutes wins each round, and the one that earns the most points in these rounds is declared champion.

Ayer Shirley freshman Jenn McGrath rsaid, "We studied the rules and strategized, watched videos of past seasons and consulted another team from Agawam (Rosie Robotics) for help. Our team went to WPI (Worcester Polytechnical Institute) for the revealing of this year's competition in January, and we were presented with the challenge: The robot would have to take a ball from one side of the field, and with the help of the other two robots in its alliance, get the ball into a low or high goal on the other side. One could also shoot the ball over a truss in the middle of the field for extra points."

The team decided to try a simple, low goal-scoring and assisting robot, seeing as it was their first year. McGrath added, "We all racked our brains for ideas on how to accomplish that. We even built and tested our own vacuum system! In the end, we took a vote and decided on a reliable, simple and elegant claw mechanism (we later impressed other teams, even at the global competition, who had never seen a system such as ours). After testing and tweaking the metal claw multiple times, we finally perfected it."

In order to accomplish all of the work required over the six weeks, McGrath commented on their process, saying, "We divided ourselves into four teams: hardware, software, rules and strategy, and business. This made accomplishing every challenge we faced much easier to do. This enabled every student on the team to use a tool to help physically build the robot throughout the build season."

When FRC Team 4905 arrived at their first competition at WPI, the spirit of the event astounded them. "So many people were dressed up in fun outfits, everyone was cheering, and the people we met were so kind and helpful," McGrath said. "We did very well in the competition, ranking ninth out of 39 teams, and were able to compete in the playoff rounds at the end. We also won the Rookie All Star Award there, which is the most prestigious award a rookie team can win in this competition. This award allowed us to go to the New England Regional event, where we won the Rookie All Star Award yet again."

Winning this award at the regional event allowed FRC Team 4905 the ability to compete at the Global Championships in St. Louis. Graciously, Ayer Shirley Superintendent Carl Mock helped pay for the registration fee for the team's trip to this World Championship competition. Echoing her thoughts on the trip, McGrath added, "One of my favorite moments of the season was a match where we were in an alliance with one team from Maine and one team from Israel. A student from the Maine team just happened to speak the same language as the team from Israel and we were translating directions and strategy between our teams during the match. This was a sight I will never forget."

FRC Team 4905 won that match, energizing McGrath. "It was amazing to be a part of something so huge and so amazing as FIRST, and I believe that moment describes that almost perfectly," she said, noting that the impact on her FIRST experience has resulted in her deciding on, "a different career path from what I had originally dreamed of doing. I fell in love with engineering, and I fell in love with being a part of a FIRST team. It is definitely something I want to continue doing for years to come."

Middle-school students are permitted to join their high-school team, given that they have a parent as a mentor on the team, or an older sibling on the team. Fortunately for seventh-grader Alana Miska, she had both this year. Alana's mother and team mentor, Christine Miska of Ayer, is an engineering director for BAE Systems, and her brother, Jacob Miska is a ninth-grade student attending Ayer Shirley High School who was a member of FRC Team 4905. Participating as the youngest member of FRC Team 4905 in the construction of Andromeda One, a robot that was required to pick up a large exercise ball to move throughout a court and pass to other robots to score in the goals, Miska said, "In the first week, got a kit of beginner parts that we could use to form the base of the robot. Other parts that we needed, we raised money to buy from hardware stores. We divided up the work and every student contributed to building the robot. At certain meetings we would work together as one team to decide on the logo, the team name and strategy for our robot. Ryan Messcher's team name, Andromeda One, was the winning name along with a logo that I designed."

Miska's favorite part was going to the competitions and watching their robot win. "I was a scout in the stands who would watch to see what other robots we would prefer to have on our team if we could choose. Other people would stay in the pit where they worked on the robot and would fix disasters if needed; which we had none (of)!" she exclaimed. Adding with a smile, she stated, "It was very fun and I felt like one of the high-schoolers. I can't wait to do it again next year with my mother, grandfather, and, well, brother, I guess."

Miska's brother Jason found the robot-building competition to be, "very challenging intellectually and it required a lot of teamwork. We got some materials from normal hardware stores like Home Depot and Aubuchon and we also ordered many specialty parts from robotics-specific companies."

When asked, "How did the club come up with ideas of what to include or what not to include?" Miska said, "We came up with ideas through collective brainstorming and we used process of elimination to find the best solution. It was extremely fun...like completing a puzzle." Would he participate in another challenge? "Of course!" Miska replied enthusiastically.

Winning the Rookie All-star award at WPI as well as the New England Championship in Boston was quite an honor for FRC Team 4905 and is evidence of their success as a team of cooperation, great ideas and hard work. This award celebrates the rookie team best exemplifying a young but strong partnership effort, as well as implementing the mission of FIRST to inspire students to learn more about science and technology.

For more, go to andromedaone.wordpress.com.