Southington High robotics team ready for new challenge in new year

Published on Thursday, 9 January 2020 21:09


SOUTHINGTON - The season for the First Robotics Competition is underway and Southington’s Team 195, The CyberKnights, is testing prototype components for this year’s “Star Wars”-themed challenge.

Randy Bonomi, electrical mentor for the team that includes 58 students from Southington High School, said that the kickoff of the season was this past Saturday. For the 23rd First Robotics season, “Infinite Recharge,” the team will have six weeks to build a robot of 120 pounds or less that can pick up and launch yellow balls or “power cells” at targets to power a “shield generator” which will “protect a city from a meteor shower.”

The robot will also have to spin a colored wheel and then put more balls into the goal that match the color of the wheel. It also must be able to differentiate between the colors. The teams don’t know the challenge each year until the day of the kickoff. The season will go through May and culminate with the finals in Detroit with teams from all over the world. Last year, the CyberKnights placed third.

Bonomi said that members of the team will be working at their headquarters at 176 Canal St., which sponsor Mohawk Northeast lets them use, seven days a week. Mentors will also be putting in a lot of work. Bonomi said that, personally, he works 100 hours between his job and helping the team.

“There is a media team, a marketing team, the design team, the manufacturing team, the electrical team, the drive-team and the team chairs,” said Bonomi. “These sub-teams will collaborate to build two robots - one for practice and one for the competitions. These robots consist of hundreds of parts. They also try to get sponsorships. The community has been very supportive of us and we typically get between 30 and 40 sponsors a year. In addition to Mohawk, who has generously allowed us to use this space since 2014, United Technologies and Athena Health Group are some big sponsors.”

Bonomi personally became involved with the team in 2015. His son Chris, he said, benefited greatly from the experience and so he stayed on as a mentor after his son graduated. Students who have participated in the program have gone on to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University. The skills attained in the robotics team also landed some past students careers with Google and Amazon.

Stacey Lynn Gray, another team mentor, said that the team’s first event will be in March.

Walter Goodenough, a junior, is the design lead for this year’s team, a role he is reprising from last year. He joined the team as a freshman and learned from the design leads at the time. Now, he will be working with CAD (computer-assisted design) to digitally construct every part as a 1-to-1 match with the robot that is being physically built. He will be using a program to enter custom-made parts into this system which the team will be creating using a new, commercial-grade 3-D printer. He will also be using a virtual-reality headset to digitally examine the components. Additionally, he will act as a spokesman for the team, explaining how the robot works.

“I’m in engineering classes in high school and there are a lot of practical ideas and concepts that we put to use here,” he said. “It also gives us an opportunity to problem-solve in a more real-world, shop-like setting with separate sub-teams all working together toward one goal. You learn a lot more by doing this than you would learn just from the classroom.”

Currently, the team is designing multiple prototype ball shooters, testing models with a single flag wheel or two horizontal wheels. They will then study which design can more consistently make the shots.

“The flag wheel has more of a spin while the two-wheel is more of a knuckleball kind of shot,” said Goodenough. “We want to continually improve until we reach the end of the season.”

Kristen Gorham, a senior and team captain, has been part of the CyberKnights since her freshman year. She said that it has been a “life-changing” experience.

“Working with everyone and meeting new people, even on the other teams, was a great experience,” she said. “There is a lot of problem solving and collaboration with all of the sub-team leaders.”

Goodenough added that the experience teaches students many life skills.

“There is a good amount of fun, too - getting to see the fruits of your labor,” he said

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or

Posted in New Britain Herald, Southington Herald on Thursday, 9 January 2020 21:09. Updated: Thursday, 9 January 2020 21:12.