Friends and family gathered on UNC Asheville’s campus Thursday night, Feb. 25, for the unveiling of a made-from-scratch robot built by GLITCH 5854, a team of Western North Carolina high school students and their mentors. The team hopes to win a regional robotics competition in March at UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena.
As audience members stared at the mysterious sheet-covered figure sitting in the middle of the room, Neil Rosenberg, a team mentor and lecturer in engineering at UNCA, explained some of the backstory.
Comprised of students interested in science and technology, GLITCH 5854 aims to participate in the FIRST — an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” — Robotics Competition. Rosenberg explained to the audience at the unveiling that the robotics team is one way of showing the public UNCA’s mechatronics program.
“UNCA has a mechatronics program, a good program, and they’ve been looking for ways to increase their involvement with the community,” he said. “In a lot of ways, the program has been a really well-kept secret, and that’s not what you want.”
After a video showing the students’ labors failed to play during the presentation, Rosenberg’s wife amused the audience by calling out, “That’s why we call ourselves GLITCH!”
Several students from the team took turns explaining their specific roles, such as programming, mechanics and marketing. Team captain Caleb Pohlman, a home-schooled high school junior, explained the team’s challenge: Build a robot that could perform very specific duties, including climbing a wall and shooting 10-inch balls through a goal. He said team members had been working three-and-a-half hours a week, four-to-six days a week.
“It’s been pretty intense,” Pohlman said. “Two nights ago, we were up till 11:30 finishing the robot, getting it to work.”
With the verbal explanations completed, two students walked toward the covered figure sitting in the middle of the room. Parents, faculty and supporters popped up from their seats to gather around the figure, their cell phones in hand. The sheet was pulled away revealing a green, glowing sign saying “GLITCH 5854.” Several students retreated behind a control board to give the audience a brief preview of what exactly the robot could do.
Afterward, as the room grew increasingly loud with people crowded around the robot, team mentor and UNCA mechatronics major Joe Caswell expressed his amazement with the team.
“It’s just been incredible,” Caswell said, competing with the crowd’s growing volume. “I’ve seen the program before, but … I’ve never seen a team go and accomplish all of the goals they set forth at the beginning of the season … let alone a rookie team.”
Caswell explained that only he and one other person on the GLITCH team had previous experience with FIRST Robotics competitions.
As team members gathered around the robot for a group photo, Bob Pohlman, father of team captain Caleb Pohlman, lingered in the background. Three of his children are on the GLITCH team, he told this reporter, explaining how the process has taught them about compromise and how to work in a group. He also noted the benefits of the group effort and how everyone on the team has played a vital role.
“Every single person has something to give,” the elder Pohlman said. “Yeah, there’s some that are freshmen, there’s some that are seniors. But each of them has got a piece that they can put into the pie.”
The regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) will take place at UNC Asheville Kimmel Arena on March 19-20, 2016.