We recently caught up with Year 12 student, Alexander Foster to chat about his passion for Robotics and all-things STEM. Alex and his Robotics team, 3132 ‘Thunder Down Under’, recently competed in the Southern Cross Regional, First Robotics Competition hosted in Wollongong. They walked away as prize winners for their climbing, ball-shooting robot! 

Q: How did you come to compete in the recent Regional Robotics Competition?

In September of 2018 I stumbled across a Facebook advertisement for a robotics team based at Macquarie University which said the team was holding a ‘new members night’. Already highly interested in STEM decided to take the almost one and a half hour drive to Macquarie University to check it out. When I walked in the doors of the workshop, I was hit by a sudden realisation that I wanted to commit to the team. Now, 4 years later, I am a design student for team 3132 ‘Thunder Down Under’. It’s my job to develop and construct a CAD model of a robot that can be applied to a collection of challenges that is released each year. This year my team and I competed at the Southern Cross Regional event, held in Wollongong. We spent three days in Wollongong (staying in UOW accommodation) and competed with our robot that we had been developing and manufacturing for the last three months.

Q: Can you briefly describe your robot design and capabilities?

This year the primary task and goal of the game was to pick up balls (oversized tennis balls with a diameter of around 24cm) and shoot them into a ring shaped goal that is elevated in the middle of the playing field. Our robot employs a wheeled roller controlled by a geared motor to intake these balls from the floor, it then feeds these balls through the robot to a holding wheel. Once our robot is aligned with the goal, a flywheel that spins at approximately 50rps is activated and the balls are fed into it resulting in a shooting of the ball (this can be likened to pitching machine). Additionally, the robot must climb from the floor onto a series of bars (picture monkey bars) to score additional points at the end of each match. Our robot employs a passive hook that attaches to the lowest of these bars and climbs on to it through clever use of an inclined plane.

Q: Who is in your team?

Since our team is based in Macquarie Park (in Sydney’s north west) the majority of my fellow team members are from schools located in Sydney’s northern suburbs. My team members are from a range of schools including Kings, Knox, Pymble Ladies College and Epping Boys.

Q: Tell us about some of your recent achievements?

This year my team achieved Third Place in competitive matches and also was awarded the ‘Creativity in Engineering award’ which recognises creativity when considering design, manufacturing and prototyping.

Due to the age of my team however (and that we were the first team to be established in Australia), we have won almost every possible award there is to earn. The most important/significant award however is the Chairman’s Award which we earned in 2017 as a product of our exemplary outreach initiative, this award solidifies a team in the FRC Hall of Fame, granting automatic qualification for the world championships each year.

Q: Is there a next level of competition from here?

After the regional competitions occur there is a large international competition in Houston, Texas which, in 2019, I had the privilege of attending in person as part of the team. Although this competition is going ahead this year, my team decided against travel in the current state of the pandemic, thus for the current year, we will not be attending. This being said however, our team does host two off-season events (held at Macquarie university) that take a collection of Australian teams and compete them at a higher level to the regionals.

We wish Alex and his team all the best for what’s to come this year and beyond!