The robot built by Bryce Palmer and his robotics team in just six weeks is almost ready for district competition.

Palmer served as the main mechanic for the bot, which weighs 154 pounds yet can clock 15 miles an hour.

This marks the Susquehannock High School senior's first year with TechFire, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 225.

TechFire is headed to FRC districts in Philadelphia this weekend, so the team gathered Sunday in Manchester Township for practice and demonstrations.

The 17-year-old said he put many hours of work into the bot and, after dealing with some mechanical problems over the weekend, hopes it will run smoothly for competition.

"I don't even care if we win or not," Palmer said. "I just want to see it work."

Ben Martin, left, an engineer for the St. Onge Company in York, and Jacob Bryan, a senior at Susquehannock High School, look on as a test robot goes
Ben Martin, left, an engineer for the St. Onge Company in York, and Jacob Bryan, a senior at Susquehannock High School, look on as a test robot goes through its routine during a test run as the FIRST Robotics Team 225 prepares Sunday for its upcoming season. ( Randy Flaum photo -

The competition: In this year's FRC competition for high school students, their robots must be able to pick up, catch and throw large exercise balls.

That's no small feat for a bot whose arm fell off on Saturday.

Fortunately, that happened to a twin "practice bot" that allows the team to troubleshoot any problems. The official bot is safe from harm, held in a bag the team can unseal before competition for just six hours to make adjustments.

During that time, the team will remove the motors that previously powered the arm and install pneumatics to power it.

Team members spent the weekend installing pneumatics, donated by Penn-Air & Hydraulics, into the practice bot. After several tests, it ran just fine.

Most teams don't use pneumatics in their bots because they're expensive, but powering the bot with air pressure presents solutions for many problems, said Wren Hensgen, mechanical captain of the team.

The Hempfield High School senior has been with the team for four years. When he joined, there were six members; this year, there are almost 30 from 10 different school districts.

"This is my favorite robot we've made so far," he said.

The team: Last year, the team went to world championships in St. Louis and finished in the top 3 percent of teams in the world, said mentor Vicki Rispoli, who provides administrative support for the team. The machine was extremely accurate and shot Frisbees across a field, she said.

The organization originated at William Penn Senior High School in 1999, Rispoli said. But when the school couldn't fund the program, it went dormant for years.

The team started back up in 2009, and since then, members are trying to make sure it continues and grows, she said.

"We want it to one of these days become a world-champion team," Rispoli said.

Being based in York, a manufacturing city, offers great opportunities for students to network with local employers, she said. And having local organizations sponsor the team this year allowed it to create the practice bot and avoid disaster in competition, Rispoli said.

The experience: But building a robot involves much more than computer programming and equipment: Team members must learn public speaking, teamwork and problem solving to succeed, she said.

Since it's community-based and not school-based, the team goes to different schools and events to teach students about robotics. The team also performs community service throughout York.

"The robot's really just a starting point for all this," she said.

Hensgen said being part of the team looks great on a resume and lets students work with industrial-grade equipment. The robot has industrial conveyor belt tread on its wheels, is built of "incredibly strong" 80/20 metal and has more than enough torque to let you ride around in it, he said.

The 18-year-old plans to attend California University of Pennsylvania with a dual major in robotics and mechatronics.

As an aspiring mechanical engineer, Palmer said getting involved with the robotics team was great experience. He plans to attend Virginia Tech and has already secured an industrial engineering internship for this summer.

"It was like on-the-job training," he said.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at