Three robotics students attend trip to China

Jack Stenglein

As part of a group of 190 students and mentors from multiple countries, three Westlake robotics students, seniors Rachel Gardner and Lewis Jones and junior Abby Audet, journeyed to China Aug. 8 for a six-day robotics camp known as the China Robotics Challenge. Along with robotics coach Norman Morgan, the students attended the trip with a group of six students from Clear Creek ISD in Houston. The group returned Aug. 21.

At the China Robotics Challenge, the Westlake students spent four days working with Chinese students who were given the challenge from last year’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition. The students from the various countries worked together to design, build, program and wire the robots and afterwards participated in a two-day tournament. In the tournament, the Chaps were part of the number four alliance captain — meaning they were the fourth team allowed to pick two other teams as partners for the tournament — and lost in the quarter finals.

“It was really rewarding to be able to mentor the Chinese students,” Rachel said. “We had been called in as the ‘international experts,’ so the Chinese students were very attentive and willing to learn from us. It was a neat opportunity for us to get to work on a lot of different aspects of robotics. Back in the U.S. we obviously have a pretty big team with lots of skilled people, but with just three of us plus Coach [Morgan], we all got to do a bit of everything.”

As foreigners, the students created quite the stir both inside and outside the robotics camp. Many Chinese citizens wanted to take pictures with them, and people were very interested in Abby’s curly hair.

“It was kind of cool in the beginning to have people taking pictures of and with me all the time like I was a celebrity or something, but after a while it just got old and annoying,” Abby said. “It was a little creepy sometimes when it was grown men asking to take pictures with me — that made me uncomfortable.”

The trip was not entirely focused on robotics, though. The students also went sightseeing in Hong Kong and Guilin and had a 22-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan on the way home that allowed them to do some sightseeing there as well.

“We saw a very naturally beautiful part of China and saw some great hills and a river that looked as if they were straight out of a traditional Chinese painting,” Lewis said.

Back at home, the six FTC teams, comprised of underclassmen, begin their season Sept. 12, when the rules and instructions for their contest are released. The FRC season will officially begin Jan. 9. Morgan has set strong goals for both the FRC team and the FTC team. He says he hopes that the FRC team will make its first appearance in the championship at St. Louis, MO and that at least one FTC team qualifies for the world championships, a feat that only 128 teams out of 4,500 worldwide accomplish. If they succeed, this will be the fourth year in a row that the FTC students have qualified.

“I like where we are in terms of our team and I think our students are prepared to rise to the challenge,” Morgan said. “I think we’re better prepared than we ever have been.”