Meet four of the robotics teams competing at Millett Hall this Saturday
27 high school and middle school robotics teams will compete at the Feb. 3 FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics tournament, hosted at Miami University’s Millett Hall.
Meet four of the robotics teams competing at Millett Hall this Saturday
Move over, basketball. On Feb. 3, robotics will be taking center court of Millett Hall.
With team names like The NUTS! (Walnut Hills High School), The R.A.T.S. (Little Miami High School/Middle School) Juniper Robotics (Sycamore School District) and The Talawanda Tubers (Talawanda High School), 27 groups of high school and middle school students will be participating in a FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics regional tournament this Saturday.
Spectators are welcome at the tournament, which focuses on collaborative competition with an emphasis on gracious professionalism alongside technical problem-solving. But for a sneak peek at what’s ahead, CEC made a few visits to local high schools and middle schools to interview student teams on what they’re looking forward to.
The first stop on our mini road trip? The R.A.T.S. from Little Miami High School/Middle School.
Led by Juliana Thomas and based at Little Miami High School in Morrow, Ohio, The R.A.T.S. (Robotics and Technology Squad) are a combination middle school and high school robotics team. The team started forming last year, evolving out of an engineering team and growing with new members each year. “We're a newer team and we haven't gone to as many competitions,” said team member Riley, a junior at Little Miami High School who manages outreach for The R.A.T.S. “We're not as developed yet, but it's really great to be able to work it out and develop it together and figure out what works for us, and what doesn't.”
As a new team, The R.A.T.S. have been working hard at gathering sponsorships and fundraising for their team. “We've been reaching out to our community,” said Riley. “We got our shirts from a local small business. I've been reaching out through other clubs at our school. We had a bake sale. We have just been trying to be as involved in our community as possible, like reaching out to the middle schoolers to really make our team as inclusive as possible, accepting everyone and allowing everyone to pursue robotics, even if they've never tried it before.”
The inclusive nature of the R.A.T.S. has allowed eighth graders like Quinn, Noah, and Luca to experience a high-school level robotics experience while still in middle school. “They came over to the middle school during our advanced robotics class, and they talked to us about it,” said 8th grade team member Luca, speaking about The R.A.T.S.’ visit to his school. “I personally like robotics and the building aspects of it, so I decided to come over and try it out, and ended up really liking it.”
When asked about the challenges they’ve faced as a team in preparing for the upcoming tournament, “the intake” was a common theme. “We had a few problems with making a few things in our classroom,” said Isabella, a junior at Little Miami High and the president of the R.A.T.S. “Our intake system would probably be our biggest challenge at the moment.” Team member Jacob, a sophomore at Little Miami High, agreed. “The intake is probably our biggest issue because that has fallen apart at least twice,” he said. But this wasn’t the only challenge faced by the team. “Probably our first biggest struggle was the motor that controlled the wheels. The gear ratio was not lining up. When we went to move the robot forward, it would turn instead of going forward like the program told it to. And then we had issues with the arms to get to extend the car at first without going back down automatically, even though the program told it to stay out.”
Despite the challenges faced, Isabella is optimistic, recalling that “we actually placed pretty well better than what we expected,” at the Miami University tournament last year. “And afterwards, we all had a little celebration at McDonald's,” she said, a tradition the team plans to repeat no matter what happens on Saturday.
The team also shared that they are grateful for the adults who have contributed their time and energy to the club. “I just wanted to thank our teacher, Mrs. Thomas, for everything that she's done for us and for being a mentor and guiding us,” said team member Charles, a sophomore at Little Miami HIgh. “I don't think we would be here without her and our other mentor, Mrs. Addis from middle school. She's really helped us. So I just wanted to give a big thanks to them.”
After a great visit with The R.A.T.S., it was time to check in with The NUTS!, who practice at a makerspace (and long time sponsor) called The Manufactory in Sharonville. Led by Rocky Tekulve, The NUTS! are based out of Walnut Hills High School. Last year, they qualified for the FIRST Tech world championship – where they finished 4th and won the Control Award – and after the recent Dayton Qualifier, they’ve already qualified for the FIRST Tech state championship for Ohio.
“When we were at Worlds last year, it was really amazing to see all the teams from different parts of the world and such high skill levels from certain teams,” said team member Alex, a junior at Walnut Hills. “But just in this area, it's nice to see teams from schools that we know and compete with them and have fun.”
According to several team members of The NUTS!, last year’s Miami University was a chance to have fun and connect with other Ohio teams. Abhi, a team member and a junior at Walnut Hills, said that last year’s Miami tournament was “a really amazing tournament for us. We were the winning alliance captain there. We won the control award, and it was really quite an amazing experience. We really appreciate Miami University being able to host this tournament for us and we're excited to compete.”
Since The NUTS! are already qualified for state, this year’s Miami Tournament offers them an opportunity to do some crucial scouting. “Because we already qualified, I think we're definitely going to be trying to scout more this time because we plan on going to the Ohio State tournament,” said Huda, a junior at Walnut Hills High School. Huda added that she’s looking forward to seeing “what other people have planned for the tournament, their strategy and how they're robots are coming along so far.”
The NUTS! are well known not only for their championship successes, but also for their trademark gold pants. “We have our gold pants, so when we win competitions we wear that to school,” said Robel, a junior at Walnut Hills. “People know we're The NUTS! because of our gold pants.”
Even despite their many wins – and their shiny pants – The NUTS! shared that there have been some technical challenges they’ve faced this season. “A recent challenge that we faced was in our intake mechanism,” said Tejas, a Junior at Walnut Hills. “It was basically stalling, and the pixels were not going through into our transfer so we could score them. So what we did is we added a second set of stars or compliant wheels that we spin to intake our pixels since we only had one before and now it works a lot better than it used to.”
With the intake issues cited by both robotics teams interviewed so far, inquiring minds must wonder: Is this a universal challenge for all teams? For answers, we turn to Juniper Robotics, named by multiple teams as one of their top competitors.
Juniper Robotics, led by Shaun Chan, practices at Sycamore High School and is composed of high school students who attend this school. Like The NUTS!, Juniper Robotics qualified for the FTC world championship last year, and they ended up taking home third place in the design competition.
“We have a very storied history with aesthetic design, and it all dates back to our first generation of the team,” said Noah, a senior at Sycamore High School and the manager of this year’s Juniper Robotics team. In that first generation, “we started with a kind of scrappy robot. We were just trying to find our own and the robotics scene and we made a robot that was almost Lamborghini themed. And it actually won a design award at one of the district competitions in Canada, the Canada Cup, which is a post-season tournament. We went into our next year thinking, ‘Let's win design award again.’”
Unfortunately, the team said, that didn’t go so well. The following year, “we tried to build a cool sphere around our robot that was a symbol for Earth, and it had this whole rocket thing and UFO,” said Noah. “It didn't result in us winning any design award and it didn't look necessarily great.”
So, the next year, the team tried again. Partnering with a design company, the team decided on a nuclear fusion reactor theme. It was this design that went on to compete in the FTC world competition. “We ended up winning third place Design Award in our division, which, for a team that just made it to Worlds, that's kind of a big deal for us,” said Noah. “And it kind of made an impact on the community because people who were watching from Ohio said, ‘Oh, hey, there's that cool looking Juniper Robot.’”
Juniper Robotics’ latest robot is modeled after a bee, a nod to queen bees and the Queen City, Cincinnati, the region Juniper Robotics calls home. Juniper worked with a product design company called Upstream 360 to design this year’s robot. Partnering with nearby businesses and gathering sponsors is handled by the operations team, one of many teams nested within the Juniper Robotics team. “There’s the drive team, there’s the hardware team, there’s the operations team which handles outreach and the business,” explained Omkar, a freshman at Sycamore High. The business element of the team has grown since their time at the FTC world championship. “When we made Worlds we needed $20,000 to travel, stay there and come back,” said Vivaan, a sophomore. “So for that we realized we needed to make money. So that's when we really started going all in with our business team and tried to raise that money.” Arushi, a senior on the team, added, “We spent hours going door to door to people's houses, and telling them, these are the reasons why we need your help to support us.”
With their success at worlds and in the business world, the question remains: Has Juniper Robotics faced issues with their intake just like the other teams interviewed? According to Nikilesh, a Sycamore High junior, the answer is definitely yes. “One of our major technical challenges involves our intake. When we're driving to get pixels, it'll get stuck and basically the intake will get jammed while the pixels are in there.” Solving this issue took insights and ingenuity from multiple teams within Juniper. “Mechanical had several solutions that they came up with. And software also had several algorithmic solutions to help detect these jams.”
With that matter settled, it’s time to visit the final school on our interview list: our local team, The Talawanda Tubers.
The Talawanda Tubers
The Talawanda Tubers is the name of the Talawanda High School robotics club led by mentor Heidi Schran. This team will enjoy the shortest commute to the Miami tournament. (Like Miami University, Talawanda High School is located in Oxford, Ohio.)
The Tubers are a team just at the start of their FTC journey. In fact, for all but one of their team members, Saturday’s tournament will be the first FTC tournament they’ve ever encountered. Sumire, a sophomore at Talawanda in her first year on the team, is one of the team members who will be experiencing the tournament for the first time this weekend. Sumire said she’s experienced plenty of tournaments when it comes to soccer, but this will be her first robotics tournament. “Even though soccer has strategic things in it, I feel this will be more strategic,” said Sumire. “And more pressure, because it's something that I'm new at. I'm used to soccer. This is my first year with robotics, so I think I'll be a little more nervous.”
Bibodh, a junior at Talawanda, will also be a first-timer at the Miami tournament. He’s been helping the club with outreach this year. “I help the club get as much exposure as possible. And now I'm helping with the arm. So with my expertise, building websites and stuff, and helping the club with the robot, I want to have my club go to the first position.”
Ruth, a freshman at Talawanda, and John, a sophomore, took some time to explain the challenge they’re up against. “The main challenge is we have to stack hexagons onto a board. That's what we are trying to do. We have the base and we're making arms and all that. We've also designed the plane for the end where you launch a plane right outside the box.” Different team members, the team explained, work on different components. “I'm working on a little extension of the arm that can pull in and out with the bike chain,” said Ruth. “John is working on the base for a robot. We have a couple working on the arm, and we're going to do some coding too.”
Olivia, a Talawanda senior, is the only team member who has seen competition before. “I participated in two tournaments last year and a scrimmage also held by Miami,” she said. “It was really cool. And, it was very shocking. The level of competition is insane. It far exceeds expectations of what you would expect at a high school robotics tournament.” What advice does Olivia have for her team members? “Definitely watch other teams and watch what they're doing, what they like, what their robot has modified, and also what they're doing with the surrounding teams,” she said. “Watch how they interact with the officials or other schools, other students, businesses. Try to follow their example.”
Great advice, Olivia! On Feb. 3, we’ll all be watching. Learn more about the upcoming tournament here.