High School Robotics Team Extends to New Heights


FRC 5459 Ipswich TIGERS (Technologically Inclined Group of Engineering Robotics Students), our resident robotics team, is extending their reach for this year’s competition season. 


The team competes in FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC. FRC is an international league in which over 3,000 high-school age teams from around the world design, build, and program industrial-sized robots from scratch to compete in a unique game-style challenge. 


This season’s renewable energy-themed game, Charged Up, challenges teams to pick up inflatable cubes and small traffic cones to score by placing them on poles called “nodes” and shelves at various heights. The end of each match also requires teams to climb and balance a “charge station”, or large see-saw-like platform. Teams compete in two alliances of three teams each, and the team with the most scoring points at the end of the match wins. 


The first 30 seconds of the match is designated for autonomous mode in which robots operate without human input to score points using cubes, cones, or the charge station. During autonomous mode, the robot runs preset paths that are coded by the team’s software department. For the remaining 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the match, a human driver and operator control the robot. 


Uniquely to FRC, the TIGERS are a “white-glove” team, meaning that adult mentors are completely hands-off and allow students to manage the team and robot construction. If they were to wear white gloves, they would not get dirty! 


Ipswich High School’s FRC team has about 20 student members ranging in age from 14 to 18. The team is organized into several departments including electro-mechanical, software, business/outreach, safety, and strategy. Each department has a student lead who is an experienced veteran member of the team. The team also has two co-captains who oversee the team and season progress. 


Team 5459 welcomes people from all backgrounds to join the team and supports them in pursuing their passion for STEM. 50% of team members identify with genders that are underrepresented in STEM fields and in the FIRST Robotics program, including women and gender diverse students. Furthermore, 5 out of 7 of leadership positions on the team are held by women and non-binary individuals. This benefits the team by bringing in diverse and unique perspectives on how to work through engineering problems. 


To learn more about the team’s goals and progress so far this season, we interviewed team co-captain and driver Pia Stewart. 


“Last year, we made team history,” she shared. “We were chosen for an alliance in both competitions, and in one of our competitions we were picked in the first round. This year I hope to do similar if not better in our mid-March competitions.” 


In order to achieve these goals, the team is setting their bar high.


 “Our team chose a robot design that is meant to accomplish all of the most challenging tasks in this year’s game: placing both cones and cubes in the tallest nodes, as well as balancing with other robots on the charge station.” 


Head Coach Scott Jewell agrees, noting that the 2023 bot is the “most complex and ambitious robot the team has ever made.” 

Team Captain Abi Dixon, Mechanical Lead Ashton Flather, and Software member Cole Flather pose in front of the robot. Image courtesy of Abi Dixon.

The shining star of this year’s robot design is a pivoting telescoping arm that extends 6 feet in three separate stages. A large claw is attached to the end of the arm and is designed to pick up cones and cubes indiscriminately. The arm pivots in a way that allows the robot to pick up cones and cubes from the ground and then lift them and fully extend to place the game pieces on nodes or shelves to score them.


The team has never attempted such a challenging design before, and they are very pleased with the progress they are making and the skills and lessons they are learning.


The TIGERS meet 5-6 times a week, including weekends, in order to finish the robot within an 8-week timeframe. The team also attended a Week 0 pre-season competition on February 18th that helped them to find many preliminary issues and test out their drivetrain and some of the subsystem mechanisms. 


Once the robot was fully built, the team traveled to Worcester Polytechnic Institute on March 5th to score their first game pieces on their practice field. Using this time, the TIGERS were able to refine the robots ability to complete the autonomous courses as well as letting the drivers get used to the controls before the competitions begin.

The team works in the pits during their week 0 competition to make last minute changes on the robot. Image courtesy of Abi Dixon.

With only three weeks of practice left until the first competition, the TIGERS are working hard to finish robot construction such that they can practice driving and running the robot through the autonomous courses before the competitions start. 


With how much time and energy has been put into the robot, they’re farther ahead in build season than usual, allowing for more time to practice and remove any problems before competitions. 


When asked about what the team feels most confident about, Pia said, “I am the most comfortable with the Teleoperated portion of our match. As the driver, I have a lot of influence over how well our robot performs and ranks during competition.”

With the competitive season just around the corner, the TIGERS are putting everything into their robot. They are giving it the needed attention and work to perfectly tune it to perform excellently and show the rest of the competition who’s going to come out on top. For now, we can only watch and wait with awe as the team gets closer to their first competition to show everyone the amazing feats they’ve accomplished.