For the past three years, the Muncie/Delaware robotics team, PhyXTGears, has been sharing its talents with the Muncie community through its New Year's Eve Ball Drop. This year, PhyXTGears will once more welcome the new year by lighting up the skyline of downtown Muncie.
The New Year's Eve ba ll drop will have people gathering at Cannon Commons in downtown Muncie just before midnight. The event takes place in conjunction with Muncie Downtown Development Partnership's holiday series, "Light Up Downtown." Before the ball drop, area businesses will offer crafts, activities and food. A firework show will take place at midnight.
PhyXTGears is a part of the organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Sciences and Technology which works to cultivate interest in science, technology and engineering among youths. As a part of FIRST, the team creates robots that it enters in annual competitions that test things such as accuracy and precision of movement.
Cheryl LeBlanc, team coordinator, said PhyXTGears developed the ball drop to promote downtown Muncie and raise awareness for the team.
Students are responsible for the mathematics and programming of the entire project, said Mike Koch, a team mentor. They are also responsible for the physical production of the ball, such as the welding and soldering.
Koch said he got involved in PhyXTGears because of his engineering background and because he enjoys seeing youths learn and grow.
"I like to work with high school kids," Koch said. "When they realize what they can do, make and create, it's great to see that light go on."
To program the lights, Andrew Rhine, a high school student involved with the project, and other team members create codes on a computer program, which they then load onto a main circuit board within the ball. To control the patterns, the team uses a remote control.
Rhine said he enjoys seeing his and his teammates' hard work on display each New Year's Eve and is happy afterward.
"I usually feel relief that it's over," Rhine said.
His peer and fellow programmer, Andrew Shaffer, has similar sentiments.
"I enjoy seeing everything work after all the time we've put into it," he said.
Cheryl Crowder, program manager for Muncie Downtown Development Partnership, said when PhyXTGears presented the idea three years ago, Downtown Development loved the idea. Since then, the ball drop has become a popular draw for downtown.
"It's always fun to see people gathered downtown to begin with," Crowder said. "But watching the kids who've actually put this ball together — their excitement when the project works and the community gets to enjoy it — there's something very special about that kind of sparkle that happens."
For more information about the Muncie Ball Drop or about PhyXTGears, visit muncierobotics.org.