NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – The Airborne Electronic Attack Systems Program Office (PMA-234) Test and Evaluation Manager escorted a team of students known as the Bot Brigade Quartic to the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Chesapeake Regional Championships in Hampton, Virginia, where they won first place for their video submission for the Promote Awards on April 9th and 10th.
Dan Ensminger has used his enthusiasm for technology and experience in program acquisition to lead 29 local youth robotics teams over the past 14 years.
“We are developing the next generation of problem solvers through hands-on applications in a fun environment, and I’m so proud of what these students are able to learn and achieve,” said Ensminger.
He became interested in building robots after learning about the LEGO Mindstorm robot kits. While looking for ways to get his three kids more fun with the kit, he stumbled across the FIRST Lego League website. The organization promotes a hands-on approach to learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and has organized competitions.
Ensminger saw that the deadline for registering teams for the FIRST Lego League (FLL) was only three days away, and since this did not give him and his family time to find a team, he decided to pay the US$200 fee -Paying dollars to register a new team.
“I figured we could find at least two more students to make the minimum team size, and a week later our freshly minted team was 10 members,” Ensminger said. “Bot Brigade had a very successful first season in 2008, advancing to the Maryland State Championship and the club grew from there.”
All three of Ensminger’s children are mechanical engineers, which he attributes to their involvement in robotics.
“FIRST robotics introduced my children to the construction process and the satisfaction they can derive from applying science and math to solving ‘real world’ problems,” he said. “Our team consists of dozens of graduates who chose STEM subjects after exploring robotics, which allowed for a better understanding of their interests and talents before making decisions about future careers.”
As the head trainer, he ensures members stay motivated and receive training on the robot design process, basic mechanics, 3D modeling and programming. He also helps recruit team members and mentors.
“The most rewarding aspect of coaching robotics is sharing the team’s excitement and satisfaction when they solve a difficult design, construction, or programming problem and have achieved a successful result – usually indicated by shouts of joy from the garage,” said Ensminger. “It’s also very exciting to see students finding something they enjoy, which translates into the type of work they might be interested in doing before they go to college.”
This season’s Bot Brigade Quartic team consists of 12 students in grades 7 through 12 across St. Mary’s County, including public, private, and homeschooled students. The team meets with Ensminger every other week during the off-season and more than five days a week before each competition. The team also participates in virtual meetings for training and administrative tasks.
At this year’s FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) regional championships, in addition to winning the Promote Award, the team went unbeaten in their five qualifiers; finished 7th out of 40 in the qualifying rounds; and had the highest average autonomous score at the tournament out of 80 teams.
“During the competitive rounds, the team experienced connectivity issues that disrupted control of the robot and suppressed the team’s results during driver-controlled periods,” Ensminger said. “Problems only occurred during the actual competition rounds, so they were difficult to fix. This highlights the importance of testing under real operating conditions, something everyone in the engineering world can relate to.”
Dan Ensminger, left, head coach of the Bot Brigade Quartic robot team, explains a practical use of the construction robots to two team members in his garage while other team members work on 3D models from his kitchen table. Ensminger has led local bot brigade teams for the past 14 years. (Photo courtesy of Bot Brigade Quartic)
Dan Ensminger, standing, head coach of the Bot Brigade Quartic robot team, tries to make learning fun while facilitating a robot design review. For the last 14 years, Ensminger has opened up his home to the local youth teams and provided them with a positive environment to learn problem solving and practical applications. (Photo courtesy of Bot Brigade Quartic)
Dan Ensminger, left, head coach of the Bot Brigade Quartic robot team, discusses robot programming with team member Seth Rollins. For the last 14 years, Ensminger has opened up his home to the local youth teams and provided them with a positive environment to learn problem solving and practical applications. (Photo courtesy of Bot Brigade Quartic)