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Lafayette Team Bringing Experienced Robot to Rose-Hulman's Crossroads Regional

March 27, 2013

By Marianne Messina

"Nort, can do it all," proudly remarks Brian Bettag, coach of Lafayette's Precision Guessworks team that's getting ready for the upcoming Crossroads Regional FIRST Robotics Competition at Rose-Hulman's Sports and Recreation Center on April 4-6. "It can collect, shoot well, play excellent defense, and hang."

Lafayette Team

Experienced Team: Members of Precision Guessworks team from Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana are preparing for the Crossroads Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, being hosted at Rose-Hulman on April 4-6. (Photo provided)

Nort, a red robot with red neon light streaming from its undercarriage, is the hope of Team 1646 to qualify for this year's FIRST Robotics Nationals. It uses a camera and LED-based tracking system to pick up and shoot discs into slots throughout the playing field to outscore opponents. The robot earned the Judge's Award at the team's hometown Boilermaker Regional on March 14-16. The award is given to a team "whose unique efforts, performance, or dynamics merit recognition." Bettag says, "The judges described our robot as 'a red and black jack-of-all-trades.'"

FIRST emphasizes a spirit of collaboration. While teams are trying to accumulate as many points as possible during the competition, they also share information readily. No instructions come with the robot kits that each team received nearly six weeks ago, so teams must rely heavily on people with past FIRST experience by mentors, senior team members, and coaches.

But what happens when everyone on the team is stumped? "The students and mentors reach out to other teams and FIRST resources to find answers," states Bettag.

Precision Guessworks is a diverse team, both culturally and economically, with students from Lafayette Jefferson High School. Team sponsors include The Kelly Group, Caterpillar, and Cassini D&D Manufacturing.

Since Bettag began coaching the team in 2006, members have concentrated on expanding a little every year. "The team tries to do something that we have not done in years past." This growth has included taking the robot for an educational outreach display at the Indiana State Fair, hosting e-waste drives, and participating in a Habitat for Humanity project.

FIRST is much more than a robotics competition. "Students improve their character, academics, and social skills over the years," Bettag states.

Catherine Hearn, a rookie member of the Precision Guessworks team, started the FIRST experience as a sixth grader on a FIRST Lego League team.


Problem Solver: Catherine Hearn, a rookie member of the Precision Guessworks team, helped solve several problems during the development of the team’s Nort robot. Her FIRST experiences started as a sixth grader on a FIRST Lego League team. (Photo provided)

"Catherine has enjoyed building and creating things since quite young, starting with Waffle Blocks and Duplos, and moving to Legos and Knex," says her mother, Karen.

Meanwhile, her father, David, admired how his daughter built items with Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. "She built the best bridges in a class she took with Purdue's Gifted Education Research Institute one summer—all the other students were boys—so she's already shown a strong aptitude for this type of thing," states David.

Bettag adds, "I was very pleased to see that she is staying involved with the FIRST program." Even as a rookie, Hearn has been an intrinsic part of Nort's development and strategic masterminding. She learned computer-aided design (CAD) technology to create drawings of the robot and then helped assemble Nort.

Hearn's problem-solving skills solved a puzzle of interlocking metal pieces brought in by one of the mentors. "I and many others tried for a long time to separate them, but it took her a matter of minutes!," Bettag reports.

Catherine Hearn is looking forward to further challenging the team's Nort robot at the Crossroads Regional, after nearly being a finalist at the Boilermaker Regional. "We have pushed our effort to the limit," she says. "We lost in the third final quarter match. Our robot sometimes has a problem moving the Frisbees out of its holder." 

You can watch Precision Guessworks' mighty red Nort in action.