AP NEWS

Teams hope to guide robots to glory

February 14, 2019

Since November, Friendswood High School’s two robotics teams have made waves at area tournaments.

And they didn’t do it by being cautious.

Ben Kuo, a senior on the Blue Steel team, says a slogan from the “Magic School Bus” television show — “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy” — sums up his team’s philosophy.

“We meet three times a week, and the ’bot doesn’t always improve after each meeting,” he said. “Sometimes we break our robot when trying to implement a far-fetched idea. But through many trials and modifications, we are able to work through our difficulties.”

On Feb. 9, Blue Steet and the school’s other team, Horsepower, did well at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Area Championship at Pearland Junior High West. That advanced them to a Southwest Texas regional competition set for Feb. 23 at San Jacinto College, Central Campus in Pasadena.

From there, they could advance to a FIRST world competition in April in Houston and after that to a University Interscholastic League competition in Austin.

Both teams performed strong at three preliminary FIRST events in November and February at the Pearland junior high.

For Soleil Gignac, a FHS junior on the Horsepower team, the competitions are about more than building a robot. It’s about building relationships and camaraderie and gaining recognition for her team.

“They’re all hard-working members, and I’m very glad that I have the opportunity to work alongside them,” she said of fellow team members.

This was the third area competition for the teams this year. In one of them, for example, Horsepower took first place and Blue Steel third.

Between 17 and 22 teams that compete in area league robotics competitions advance to regional, state and then national competitions.

Nishi St. John, a Friendswood High career and tech teacher, said that team members are selected through an application process that requires two teacher recommendations and information about the students’ experience in robotics and academic performance.

Team members are in charge of everything from building and programming the robots to fundraising and keeping engineering notebooks and data.

Horsepower and Blue Steel each have eight members.

To succeed, they must cooperate to solve problems and mediate disagreements.

“They learn how to advocate for themselves and make compromises,” St. John said.

The teams’ robots must maneuver around obstacles to gain points. This year’s theme for competitions is “Rover Ruckus,” a space-theme set on the moon.

“This competition’s scenario is that (our team) has finished a trip to an inhospitable planet rich in silver and gold minerals,” Kuo said. “Our task is to score points by completing tasks on the surface of the planet such as collecting mineral deposits using our rover.”

From ‘hot mess’ to success

Gignac was unfamiliar with robotics when she joined her team.

“No one on the team, when we started, had much of an idea of what we were getting into,” she said. “We were just handed material and given an objective.

“The team was a hot mess … but in helping build the club we definitely bonded and got to know each other really well,” Gignac said. “I ended up staying because not only did I really enjoy the process of coming up with new unique ways to have the robot accomplish certain tasks but I enjoyed the relationships I’ve made with the team and the coaches.”

Gignac is also working to get the robotics team more visibility on campus.

St. John is hoping the teams’ tournament success streak continues.

“I look forward to seeing how far they can take their success,” she said.

The FTC Southwest Texas Regional Competition will be Feb. 23 at Anders Gym at San Jacinto College, Central Campus, 8060 Spencer Highway, Pasadena.

For more information on the FIRST in Texas program, visit http://firstintexas.org/aboutus.