Conway School Board 'Checkmated' by Kennett Coders

Conway School Board 'Checkmated' by Kennett Coders

CONWAY — The Conway School Board got checkmated on Monday evening — and they liked it.

Kennett High sophomores Chani Mores and Kate Keefe, also known as robotics team 5106C, were recognized by the school board for receiving the Excellence Award for the best all-around robot at the VEX Robotics NH/VT State Championships on Feb. 17 at Manchester Community College, topping 72 other teams to earn an invitation to the 2018 robotics world championship.

The Coders, the team name of the Kennett robotics program, are planning to go to Louisville, Kentucky, April 25-28.
Checkmate 5106C


They’ll be bringing along Checkmate, their robot, which has been dominating the competition this robotics season.

Checkmate dazzled the school board with a variety of displays, picking up cones and moving around the Professional Development Center effortlessly.

It even delivered a cone to School Superintendent Kevin Richard and Assistant Superintendent Katie Wilson, surprising them by placing it right on the desk in front of them.

“Our robot is location-aware,” Mores explained. “The robot knows the distance to different targets, for example, the mobile goals for the cones. It utilizes sonar sensors and line trackers to find these mobile goals and cones.”

Keefe said she and Mores wrote over “3,000 lines of code” for Checkmate, “which is a pretty big amount.”

“In each match,” Mores explained, “there is a certain amount of time where the robot is autonomous. We program it to do things, we don’t have any control over it.”

Matches last two minutes, and of that for 15 seconds the robot must be autonomous. The goal of the game in a match is to stack as many cones as you can.

This year marks the fifth year in the past six that the Coders have sent a team to the world championships.

Worlds bring together 1,500 teams from middle school, high school and college from a pool of 22,000 teams worldwide. Forty-four countries are expected to be recognized. There will be 475 high school teams competing this year.

“One of the neat things is the competitors are paired up with other teams at random,” Ron Sandstrom, coach of the Kennett Coders, who has been the championships to see his children, Tomas and Cathy, compete in the past, said. “It is a wonderful experience for our kids.

Sandstrom and fellow Coders coaches Dan Richardi and Joe Riddensdale were also on hand at Monday’s meeting.

Keefe and Mores shared what they think makes Kennett Coders, which has more than 20 members, special.

“Kennett High School programming courses encourage innovation. Kennett Coders Robots are smart. Focus on writing software to make the robots come alive. Encouraged exploration of new technologies makes robots more competitive.

"The team works together, sharing ideas and code. The team creates and unit tests prototypes. The team is most proud of the inspire award. Robotic programs running in the elementary school through the high school. Strong support from external mentors/Ph.D.s/engineers who are available as sounding boards for ideas and algorithms.”

“One thing about VEX competitions is all of the materials are fixed,” Sandstrom said.

“Each team has the same opportunity to compete with their motors and parts. What makes it really challenging is you need to come out and be better than the other team using the same thing everyone else is using.”

“If everyone has the same starting block what are the factors that go into having a winning robot,” Kennett High Principal Neal Moylan asked.

“For us,” Mores said, “we spend a lot of time working on the robot. There are many weeks where we go every single day or work on the robot, just to improve it. I think working really hard on it is one of the big factors.”

Moylan followed up by asking how much of a role the (programming) code plays in success.

“I think it’s a big part,” Mores answered. “Coding the robot to be smart is one of the reasons why we did very well because a lot of what the robot does is autonomous and I don’t have to think about it and it’s a lot faster.”

“Another element they have to come up with is an engineering notebook,” Riddensdale said. “All of the teams have to have one and theirs was outstanding, usually better than anyone else. It documents every step of the process. It’s almost as if you were given these parts and given that notebook, you could literally put it all together. That’s how detailed it has be (and then is reviewed by 15 judges).”

Mores and Keefe plan to tinker with Checkmate a little bit before heading to Louisville.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Keefe said with a smile.

“Between states and now we’ve actually changed the entire claw to be more lightweight,” added Mores. “It seems to be working really well.”

The Coders need help to get to the World Championships. In total, the cost to participate in the event will be more than $5,000. If you can contribute and want to help the team get to the world championships, please send a donation to: Diane Ryan, c/o MWV Economic Council, 53 Technology Lane, Suite 100, Conway, NH 03818.

The team has also started a GoFundMe page (, which as of Thursday had raised $865.

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