Robotics teams rise to the challenge at Houston competition

January 27, 2019

Amid yells in the crowded high school gymnasium, teams of young robotics enthusiasts gathered around the tables on the basketball court, urging their bots to complete challenges.

Teams like Tacocats, Girls n’ Gears and Diamond Slicers spent Saturday at the FIRST LEGO League competition hosted by Worthing High School. The event aims to teach fourth- to eighth-graders inclusivity, teamwork and innovation through robotics and technology.

“I always found robotics as a fun activity until I actually went into it and I just thought maybe I could find family here and it just became something I fell in love with,” said Kacie Bui, 11, a member of Girls n’ Gears.

Competitors have been working on their bots since the theme of the challenge was announced in August. There have been 10 competitions since December, leading up to the qualifiers.

On the floor of the gym, two students from each team brought their robot and any attachments to one of the six tables to traverse a space-themed mat filled with challenges, including nudging a car down a track and breaking through a barrier.

Each team got three tries to complete the most missions and get as many points as possible. Girls n’ Gears robot completed two missions.

“(The competition) definitely taught me Legos aren’t just used for building and entertainment and it teaches you that you can do more with simple building blocks,” Bui said.

The first-time Diamond Slicers also experienced trouble on a few of its attempts, temporarily shorting out and not responding to code.

Jane Taylor, FIRST’s director of outreach and education for the region, helped team members connect with someone who could assist.

“The hope is that we’ll have a full pipeline in this community where there are elementary kids who could join the middle school robotics team and continue on to the high school one,” Taylor said.

Both Tacocats and Diamond Slicers advanced to the championship, winning awards for teamwork and robotics skills at Saturday’s competition.

“I think we could all say we really learned to work together as a team. Before this team I tended to work alone I didn’t really trust other people,” said Reese Wu, 13, a member of Tacocats. “When I came on this team, I learned two heads are better than one.”

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