NKHS Robotics Team

The members of FTC Team, “The GONK Squad,” from North Kingstown High School, pose for a photo after winning the Design, Think and Inspire awards at the Vermont FIRST Tech Challenge Championship last month, earning a spot to compete at the FIRST World Championship in Detroit, MI this April.



NORTH KINGSTOWN – The North Kingstown High School (NKHS) robotics team 701, dubbed the GONK Squad, came out on top at the Vermont FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Championship, qualifying the team to compete at the World Championship held in Detroit, MI, this April. 

This year’s FTC game, “Rover Ruckus,” which was hosted in conjunction with the University of Vermont, allotted a 30-second autonomous operation period, where robots must operate based on pre-programmed code, followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period, where drivers control their robots using video-game controllers.

Following the competition, the GONK Squad team won several awards, including the Design Award, Think Award and, most importantly, the Inspire Award–beating out the other 32 FTC teams.  

The Design Award is presented to the team with the most outstanding robot construction and the Think Award is given to the team with the most exceptional Engineering Notebook, while the Inspire Award is the overarching award given to a team that excels in all 10 awards categories.

The purpose of the competition revolves around attaining a higher score than the opposing teams by collecting objects and sorting and scoring them into a cargo hold, performing autonomous tasks and navigating to specific parts of the playing field. 

Several members of the NKHS team said they were blown away by their win in Vermont, while also gearing up to take their robot to Detroit next month to compete in the world championship for the first time ever. 

Meredith Thibeault, who’s been on the robotics team for three years, said the opportunity was a once in a lifetime experience. 

“It’s one thing to be competing in the competitions here in Rhode Island,” Thibeault said. “But Vermont was just a different level. We were competing against some of the best teams in the world.” 

“No one knew who we were before Vermont and then all of a sudden all at once we are going to World Championship. We are competing against some of these amazing teams,” she continued. “Just to be on that level and be meeting these students who we’ve looked up to and we’ve respected so much was a great opportunity.” 

And Thomas Rishworth echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“When we came into the competition, we weren’t really expecting a lot because we were competing against some of the best teams in the world that we thought we had no chance,” Rishworth said. “All of our faces just immediately lit up.”

He went on to say that winning the Inspire Award both blew the team away, while simultaneously cementing the year-long work they had put into their project.

“Once we won that award,” he said, “I felt sort of like, we did it. I know for a fact we weren’t expecting that. It’s a really good thing to feel that all of the hard work paid off and all of the worry was for nothing.”

The team is divided into specific roles, including members who work on the engineering notebook, builders and programmers.  

Teammember Casey Egan said each member was integral to the process. 

“Each role has a huge part,” Egan. “We’re all working on different parts at different times so we’re not interfering.”

Kazen Gallman, a programmer, said the teammembers supported each other throughout the year as they designed and built their project. 

“Everyone wants to help each other out and it just gives a different feel to it, where everyone is supportive and just wants everyone to succeed and have the best time they can,” Gallman said.  

Brett Wotherspoon, who worked on the design process, also outlined how the award winning project ultimately came together. 

“For the design process, we first like to look at the game mechanics to see what we’re working with. We each create our own design as a sketch and then we decide on one design after that. And then we put the design in computer-aided design (CAD) program and then we start building it,” Wotherspoon said. “If things are successful, we try to improve them and make them better.” 

And Nathan Rome, a programmer, said the team was focusing on improving the robot play going into the world championship next month.

“We’re focusing mainly on improving our robot play because everything else is pretty solid. We have been a contender for most of the awards so we don’t need to improve too much on that. What we need to focus on is making the robot able to perform better,” Rome said. “Right now we’re making 3-D models on CAD software… So we’re working on using that right now to make a new design so we know how to make it before we actually use the physical parts and put it together, so we can get it on the first try.”

Rishworth added that the team wasn’t focusing on complete redesigns or scrapping anything, but simply making their robot better. 

“We know we’ve done good to get to the position we’re in, so we’re trying to keep that in mind,” he said. 

Though the team is working hard to get ready for the upcoming championship, and at the same time raising funds for the trip, the members are still processing the fact that they are actually, for the first time ever, taking their robot to the worldwide competition. 

“I was in shock when I heard it and I think I’m still in shock,” Thibeault said. “I don’t know, I’m not processing it.”

Sam Mutch-Wilson said the prospect was as exciting as it was surreal. 

“It does feel unreal, it’s a once in a lifetime thing,” Mutch-Wilson said. 

Richard Powell, the robotics coach, said he was “absolutely excited” to take the team to the world championship.

“We’ve been doing this at NKHS since 2007,” Powell said. “This is our first time to the World Championships. The fact that we’re going with this group, I can’t be happier for them. 

He added that this particular team of students was easy to coach because “they’re motivated, they take suggestions but they can also think for themselves.”

“It’s actually really fun to coach them,” he said. 

The team is currently finalizing fundraising plans; however, any individuals who are interested in donating can contact Powell at richard_powell@nksd.net. Corporate sponsors should visit the team’s website, www.ftc701.com, to download our sponsorship application form.

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