FTC Robotics Tournament

When most people think of robots, they conjure up the image of a distant future, however, robots are very much a part of present day society at Apex High, where they take on a more competitive form in the First Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team. Most recently (February fifth) the team traveled to a tournament in Sanford, where they faced both triumphs and losses.

FTC robotics is a sport like no other: one that involves programming, engineering, and complex thought. This is a nation-wide program that sparks competition amongst young engineers by presenting them with unique challenges, and leaving them to their own devices to create a robot that fulfills these goals. This year, the challenge seems simple: collect blocks and balls (known as shipping elements) and place them onto a tiered platform (shipping hub). But the stakes rise when participants must complete the task hands-off, with the use of machinery and skilled drivers alone. Additionally, there are multiple sectors to the competition: the robot must move autonomously for thirty seconds, driven only by programming, the drivers must park the bot properly, and the team’s portfolio must be evaluated.

The team managed to convert the gears turning in their heads into real wires and metal, and craft a robot that can pick up, move, and drop objects. First, the robot zooms into action, approaching a block, and launching it into a carrier with the force of fast-paced, spinning rubber intakes. Then, with the help of a skilled pilot, it whirrs over to the shipping hub, extends an arm-like linear slide, and plops the shipping element into the hub.

For the most part, this mechanism paid off. Apex Robotics won second place for the Think Award, only trumped by Aperture Science in first place. The Think Award is an evaluation of the team’s notebook/portfolio; in other words, the planning measures taken to ensure the machine’s success; and being first runner-up in this category, Apex was on the cusp of continuing to state finals. Furthermore, the team fared well in the autonomous portion, where their creation followed careful programming in order to move independently.

Unfortunately, with their great highs, came some low points over the course of the competition. Apex Robotics ended up ranking 23out of 24 with a total of 239 points, compared to the victors — Aperture Science’s whopping 1,021. Although multiple factors play into scoring, the majority of points deducted were the result of penalties, as the team tended to obtain more than one shipping element at a time. 

Yet, even in the wake of defeat, the team has kept a positive outlook. In the future, they hope to start and end their work in a more timely manner. June Brewer states, “Next year, we’ll hopefully start things a lot sooner… finish the robot a lot sooner so the drivers can get practice, and maybe plan out the robot a bit more before we build it.” Brewer and fellow teammate Ian Suh explain that the team should plan more through scheduling and assigning specific roles to members in a way that will accelerate the speed of the process. Brewer and her colleagues also have more outreach opportunities in the works to further enhance their portfolio through further collaboration with middle schools in order to practice and recruit rising high school students.

Additionally, joining FTC robotics benefits both team and individual. Team member Amen Anes states, “It’s a great learning opportunity, getting hands-on involvement in mechanical engineering and software engineering. You’re also using exactly the same tools and software that they use in the industry, so you gain a lot of experience… You’re taking part in things like sponsorship outreach and web design.” On top of this, Anes explains how FTC robotics builds cooperation and teamwork skills that are crucial outside of the field of STEM.

But the success of the team is not limited to their own resources; they also rely on donations to pay for parts and entry fees. The team receives funding when they reach out to sponsors, but they can also be aided by donations. With help, Apex Robotics can raise interest in STEM and rise to the peak of competition.

Link to donate: https://apexhighrobotics.org/fundraising/

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