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Watkins Glen’s Mechanical Meltdown Soars Into Regional Championships


Mechanical Meltdown, the youth robotics team based in Watkins Glen, has earned advancement to the Excelsior Regional Championship for the seventh consecutive year. This includes every season since their start in 2017. The team secured a spot in the championship through their performance at the Finger Lakes Qualifying Tournament in Penfield.

Mechanical Meltdown is part of FLARE (Finger Lakes Area Robotics Education) and Trumansburg Robotics, Inc. The program is open to youth in grades 7-12, with current students from Burdett, Trumansburg, and Ovid.

Each year in early September, a new robotics challenge is released through FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Over the next several months, students from around the world put in countless hours with their teammates to design, build, and program a robot to complete the challenges.

According to the team’s lead mentor, Kathy Gascon, members meet at least 3 times per week, and during the final weeks leading up to a tournament, some members work on preparations nearly every day. John Bruning, a 7th-grade homeschooler from Ovid and first-year member, was asked how he felt about this time commitment. He answered, “Our time and effort definitely paid off and it definitely was worth it.” He added, “I have played on soccer teams before and I really enjoyed it, but it was never like the happiness I felt at the tournament.”

This year’s game is called Center Stage and has an arts-inspired theme. The primary goal is to collect 3-inch hexagonal “Pixels”, and then maneuver around obstacles and other robots to deposit them onto a 3-foot “Backdrop”. Extra points can be earned by arranging the Pixels in a “Mosaic” (specific color patterns) or by stacking them higher.

Each match begins with a 30-second autonomous period, where vision software is used to detect a “Prop”. Based on the position of the Prop, the robot delivers Pixels using only sensors and pre-programmed logic. Teams are also tasked with creating a robot which can pull itself up to suspend from “Rigging” and launch a paper airplane “Drone” at the end of a match.

Lucas Hunter, Juliet Asperschlager, Gavin Simoneau (photo: provided)

At the Penfield competition, after 5 rounds of preliminary matches, Mechanical Meltdown was ranked second among the 23 participating teams. As the number two seed, they formed an alliance with Electric Mayhem White from Buffalo and Nuclear Detonation from Notre Dame in Elmira. With help from their selected partners, the team swept through semi-final and final rounds winning all 4 matches against some difficult competitors.

In addition to being Captain of the Winning Alliance, Mechanical Meltdown also won the Think Award for documentation of their engineering journey, and was nominated for the Inspire Award as an all-around role model team and the Control Award for programming. Referring to his team’s success, Bruning beamed, “I was amazed with the results and excited that we had won!”

Two 9th-grade homeschoolers have done the majority of the robot’s programming this year. Juliet Asperschlager of Burdett reflected, “This is my third year on the team, but first year as an official programmer, so I am especially proud that we got our robot working as well as we did for having so little experience.” Lincoln Bruning of Ovid, also in his 3rd year on the team added, “After so much time and effort, watching the autos work so well was just so gratifying for me, especially because this is my 1st year programming a competition robot.”

Currently, Mechanical Meltdown is ranked #2 out of 45 teams who have competed so far in our region. They are ranked #3 of 131 in the state, and #204 of 4,257 in the world. These are impressive numbers, however, the team already has a slate of items they would like to improve upon. Bruning explained, “I feel that the time and effort put into this tournament were very worth it, because it is so great to move on to regionals in our first tournament of the season so that we can experiment a little more and have less pressure.”

The team will gauge their progress by competing in Buffalo on January 27th, and in Corning on February 11th. Then they will have a few weeks for final revisions before the championship, which takes place on Sunday, March 3rd at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, NY. Asperschlager concluded, “I think everything we have done so far has paid off and I am super excited for Regionals in March!”

Juliet Asperschlager, Violet Mansfield, Gavin Simoneau, Lucas Hunter, John Bruning, Lincoln Bruning, Judah Kircher (photo: provided)
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