FLL team builds ‘out of this world’ robot, nab place at international competition

In April, The Mighty Monkey Wrenches will head to the world championship in Detroit to compete at the FIRST Championship.

On Saturday, March 2, The Mighty Monkey Wrenches walked out of Rowan University as the Southern New Jersey For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Lego League Champions. The boys from left to right: Andrew Faunce, Nick Ford, Michael Cougle, Jack Regovitch, Liam Faunce and Logan Clark.

It was the third and final run for Moorestown Robotics team “The Mighty Monkey Wrenches.” The first two hadn’t gone so well for their robot, and the team was sitting in 10th place in the robot performance game category. Harry Faunce, one of the Wrenches’ coaches, was biting his nails when his team’s name was called.

But miraculously, their final pass proved to be their most successful one. The team’s robot nabbed them 164 points and second place in the robot performance game. On Saturday, March 2, the team walked out of Rowan University as the Southern New Jersey For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Lego League Champions, and in April, the team will head to the world championship in Detroit to compete at the FIRST Championship.

The Moorestown Robotics Club is a parent-run, self-funded organization that formed in 2012. The Mighty Monkey Wrenches team was formed three years ago and called themselves “The Sassy Cows.” While the name didn’t stick, it certainly helped them stand out while they had it with the comical nature helping people remember them even after they changed their name.

Their very first year, the team made it to the state championship at Rowan, but went home empty handed. They made their return again last year, but fell just short of nabbing the championship. The team returned for their third year ready to put their best effort forward.

This year’s FLL theme, “Into Orbit,” asked teams to solve a problem related to a physical, psychological or emotional component of space travel. Faunce said the six team members took a deep dive into space travel as they researched a variety of ideas spanning topics like loneliness in space and excrement removal.

Finally, the team discussed what might happen if you’re on Mars and run out of fuel. They began thinking about a way that shuttles going from the main craft to the surface of Mars could travel back and forth without continually refueling.

The team dreamed up a scenario where windmills and solar panels placed on the surface of Mars could generate enough energy to power electromagnets that can propel a shuttle craft back and forth. Then they made that dream a tiny reality with their working model they brought to Rowan for the competition. The electromagnets launched their mini shuttle a few inches and successfully demonstrated proof of concept.

“Our project was a really innovative project that got a lot of attention,” Faunce said.

Their project constituted one component of their overall score. The team was also awarded points based on FLL’s core values, which call on competitors to have good sportsmanship and work together with other teams with a shared spirit of cooperation.

The final part of their score came during the nail-biting robot performance game. The teams were tasked with building a robot that has to perform “missions” on a four- by eight-foot table. If completed, each mission is worth a certain number of points.

Each team gets three runs at the game, and their highest score of the three rounds counts toward their overall score. Faunce said the game proved especially difficult with nearly all the teams in attendance struggling, but somehow, at the 11th hour, the team went from 10th to second place in the category with their third run.

Thirteen-year-old Michael Cougle said when they learned they were champions, the feeling was electric.

“It was very ecstatic,” Cougle said. “We were really happy, and it was a really great moment to see all of our hard work pay off.”

Looking ahead, the team is focusing in and honing both their project and the robot for worlds. Cougle said the goal is to improve their robot’s efficiency, so they can nab more points. They also hope to add as much information as possible about the science behind their electromagnetic shuttle.

For Andrew Faunce, the competition is just one exciting aspect of worlds.

“We’re most looking forward to meeting other teams from around the world and learning from [them],” Andrew said.

The six team members will compete April 24 to April 27 at the FIRST Championship. Faunce said the team has found this is not an inexpensive endeavor to go to the World’s Festival. The four-day competition involves the team manning a standard sized convention booth and requires lodging and transportation expenses. For that reason, the Wrenches are seeking sponsors. Those interested in supporting the team can contact Harry Faunce at jhhf@me.com.