Knoxville Catholic High School’s robotics team, the Roboticahuns, competed again in the Smoky Mountain regional against other high schools from the local area and throughout the Southeast. The regional was held March 28 and 29 at the Knoxville Convention Center.
Called the “varsity sport of the mind,” the robotics competition is organized by FIRST, a non-profit group founded by Dean Kamen in 1989 and dedicated to inspiring youth in science and technology. The Robotichauns were FIRST team No. 2393.
This year, the Robotichauns participated in a challenge known as “Aerial Assist.” The teams’ robots had to be able to throw and retrieve large inflated balls, similar to those used in Pilates exercises, over a truss and into targets. In any match, three teams play together as the “red alliance” against another three teams, called the “blue alliance.”
In Aerial Assist, the highest scores could be made with a team working to pass the ball to the other robots in their alliance, thus making it necessary to strategize as to how an alliance could assist each other to win the match. Each match lasts two minutes and 30 seconds. In the first 30 seconds the robots operate autonomously by their internal programs, after which team drivers can take over the controls and operate the robots by console.
The Robotichauns’ robot – named Orianna by seniors Ben Nadolsky and Patrick Russell after a popular character in the video game “League of Legends” – survived heavy competition throughout Friday and into Saturday morning.
“The team’s done really well this year,” said Doug Parris, KCHS physics teacher and faculty adviser for the team. “We really came together with a mix of young and old students. We have some senior leadership that helps to keep us organized and new freshmen and sophomore members that show us the team has a bright future.”
By midday on March 29, before going into the final elimination rounds, the Robotichauns were seeded in first place in a field of nearly 50 schools. Before starting the elimination rounds, the eight top-seeded teams were allowed to pick from lower ranking teams to build their alliances for the final rounds. The Robotichauns, represented by team captain Ben Nadolsky, invited Hardin Valley High School’s Rohawktics and Webb High School’s Spartans to form an alliance with them.
The elimination rounds demonstrated fierce competition among all the teams.
The alliance captained by the Robotichauns had almost secured a spot in the nationals when a replay was called by the judges due to a technical foul. In the rematch, unfortunately, the alliance was defeated.
However, this was the first time that the Robotichauns had achieved the distinction of being the first ranked team going into the final rounds. During the awards ceremony following the competition, the Robotichauns won the Excellence in Engineering award sponsored by Delphi for Orianna’s design and team captain Ben Nadolsky was recognized for his achievements.
“I am very proud of the team,” Ben said. “We played a good game, despite the loss, and I look forward to being a mentor to the team after graduation this year.”
Jane Walker, the KCHS academic dean, Jane Walker agreed.
“I’m so proud of them,” she said. “I’ve watched this robotics team for years, from the very first build, so to see how far they’ve come and to be in first place [before the final rounds] is incredible.”