Local schools compete in robotics competition

Hannah Swayze • Jan 27, 2018 at 10:34 PM

Early in the morning Saturday, over 100 high school, middle school and even a few elementary school students set up in the Sullivan North High School gym, ready and prepared for competition. 

But this is not a basketball game. Instead, students brought along robots that they built, programmed and controlled themselves, for the VEX Robotics Competition.

Over the past few months, 28 teams from 15 schools across Tennessee have been building robots and programming them in anticipation for this day. Over 100 students were involved in the competition.

The first round of matches began after a quick welcoming ceremony and team meetings.

Teams of four were assigned to either the red or blue team. They placed their constructed robots in a ring that was littered with small, colorful cones and red and blue marked areas.

Once the match begins, the first 15 seconds are an automated period where teams that have programmed their robots to move on their own have an opportunity to show their work.

The autonomous period is followed up by a driver-controlled period where the teams designate a driver to manually control the robot. Teams gain points by stacking various cones in designate areas and parking their robots in certain spaces.

In between the quick rounds, the students scurry around their tables, making adjustments and repairs to their robots.

Each team looks to rack up as many points as possible to rise in the ranks in preparation for the elimination rounds after lunch.

During elimination rounds, teams pick alliances that are made up of three existing teams and work together to defeat other teams to qualify for the state competition at Brentwood Academy in early March.

Jessica Murabito, commander of the Science High School robotics team, is new to the game. Their team, the Hilltopper Cadets, have only had about two months to work on their robot.

Despite the time crunch, their robot, which the students named "Roger" after a faculty member who moved away, was ready to go for the team's first competition.

"I'm on drill team and this is just nothing compared to it,” Murabito said. Drill team we have to be really serious in uniform and all that, it's so different. The people here are so nice."

But the day is more than fun and games.

In addition to the actual displays, each team has to go through an interview process. Judges make their rounds to each team, checking regulations and asking students about their design and construction. And building a robot is not easy. The teams take it very seriously.

For eighth-grader Jackson Taylor, the key seems to be a bit of trial and error. His team at Happy Valley Middle School Has been working on their robot since August.

Jackson's job mostly involves building the robot and making sure it does what the team needs it to do for competition. He also helps with autonomous programming and is the team's driver.

“With this competition you have to have something that's accurate and can pick up heavy things. First you need to find out what you need to do then you need to design something that works during the competition and then you need to obviously build it," Jackson said.

"You need to test it, see if it works, if it doesn't work the way you want it to, you have to edit the design over and over again with the engineering design process."

Happy Valley had five separate teams competing on Saturday, including an all-girls team.

Seventh-grader Emma Johnson joined the team just recently, and has learned a lot from her team about the building process and how to work together.

"We kind of realized that if we don’t work together as a team, we just don't get as much done," said Johnson.

Though she doesn’t know if robotics is something she wants to do in the future, she's ejoying her time on the team.

"We're really focused on trying to have fun because we really love it here," said Johnson. 

At the end of the day, one team from Happy Valley and two teams from IFT Robotics in Chattanooga qualified for the state competition.

In March, the teams will travel to participate in the state competition in hopes of eventually making it to the Vex Robotics World Championship.

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