KCHS students recognized as team’s robot squares off
Every cloud has a silver lining and for the Robotichauns (Team 2393), Knoxville Catholic High School’s robotics team, the adage came true when it finished as second-place finalists in the Smoky Mountains regional competition, winning a silver medal.
The competition was sponsored by FIRST, a non-profit organization that organizes robotics competitions worldwide.
The Smoky Mountains regional took place March 29-30 at the Knoxville Convention Center. Fifty teams from high schools throughout the country traveled with their robots to compete in this year’s competition, called “Ultimate Ascent” by FIRST. In Ultimate Ascent, a team’s robot had to shoot Frisbees into targets, climb a pyramid, and play defense against other teams.
The competition is not played one-on-one. Instead, in each match three teams are assigned to the “blue” alliance and three others to the “red” alliance. Each alliance then works together to outscore the other alliance during the 90-second match. During the time when teams are in a staging area waiting for their match, the students on the individual teams confer with their alliance members in game strategy. In this way, robotics not only allows students to develop skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), but in tactical reasoning, communications, and teamwork, too.
After the matches are played, the teams are ranked before the finals. The Robotichauns ranked in 15th place, and were in alliance with the Jackson Redneck Robotics (Team 4092) from Alabama and The Digital Goats (Team 829) from Indiana to go into the finals. Ultimately, they were beaten out of first place by three local high schools, but not before a good fight was waged.
In addition to second place, the Robotichauns won the Innovation in Control Award. This award, sponsored by Rockwell Automation, recognizes a team’s unique design in performing a specific function. The Robotichauns robot—“Francis” (named after our new pope)—was built with a complex system of vacuums and hydraulics that allowed it to drive over a Frisbee and retrieve it from underneath and deposit the Frisbee into its shooting mechanism. Team member Libby Fortunato, who functioned as the Robotichauns’ safety officer in its pit area, also was recognized for her performance in that role.
But a robotics competition is not all serious work—there is serious fun as well. Many teams adopted costumes and decorated their pit areas for a festive atmosphere. Each team also designed a team button, and the students socialized, exchanging buttons and ideas, throughout the competition. A DJ provided music, and when there was a lull between matches, a popular dance song—such as the Chicken Dance, the Macarena, or Gangnam Style—was played, resulting in spontaneous “raves” in the stands and in front of the playing field.
The competition was open to the public at no charge, so family members and friends of the students competing were on hand to cheer and wave signs for encouragement. The public was encouraged to tour the pit areas, especially with younger children, to inspire the next generation of competitors.
The robotics season begins shortly after the first of the calendar year with FIRST’s announcement of the annual challenge, which defines the functions a team’s robot must perform that year. A team then has six weeks to design, build, and test its robot. Based on the challenge created by FIRST, there is no guarantee a team will be able to use any functionality in their previous year’s robot. Once the deadline is met, a team enters into regional competitions held across the country and overseas. If a team is part of an alliance that won first place, they then go on to compete nationally in St. Louis.
As one FIRST official said, “These are the kids who won’t be living in their parents’ basement when they are adults.”
FIRST robotics aim is to provide high school students with invaluable skills in technology, project management, and teamwork. The KCHS Robotichauns is open to any interested student. A technical background isn’t needed because a variety of talents is needed for a successful season. In addition, adults who are willing to serve as mentors also are encouraged to become part of the Robotichauns. Anyone interested in joining the Robotichauns should contact Doug Parris at Knoxville Catholic High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).