Robotics FTC teams compete at Austin Metro League Championship

On Feb. 2, the robotics FTC teams competed at the Austin Metro League Championship from 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. at Vista Ridge High School. Winning this competition will advance a team to regionals. One of the teams won the overall tournament and advanced to regionals, and three of them qualified for a different tournament with another chance to advance to regionals.

“The students received the contest back in September called Rover Ruckus,” robotics teacher Norman Morgan said. “This year, they’re supposed to be sorting minerals. They also do a presentation to the judges, and they also have the judges interview them at the pit — the workspace for their robot. They are judged on multiple categories of awards: innovation, design, motivation.”

All of the WHS teams competed against 43 robotics teams from other high schools in the Austin area, including Vista Ridge, LASA, Vandergrift and Bowie.

All of the teams’ preparation happened outside of class. Morgan doesn’t directly coach any of the teams. Instead, volunteer parent coaches and mentors work with each team.

“It’s much like an extracurricular activity, like football or band or choir … all the teams have been meeting three or four times a week since September,” Morgan said. “Most teams worked probably worked 10-12 hours per week, including their Saturday work session. They design and manufacture the robot and then they plan outreach activities, fundraising activities, training activities within their team. They prepare their presentation and pit display. They prepare their interviews and their marketing materials they would share with the judges and other teams.”

Everybody receives the same problem, but each team prepares and finds a solution in different ways.

“There’s a lot of different ways to find the solution to the game,” Morgan said. “It’s interesting to see how every team feels about doing that.”

There are five different FTC teams. The majority of the teams is made up of freshmen and sophomores. Each team is formed from an evaluation process based on different skills that students have, such as programming, design, or manufacturing. There is a little bit of every skill on each team and even students that are completely new to robotics. Sophomore Freya Bansal is on the Taus team, who won the tournament and advanced to Regionals.

“I think we did really well, and I’m proud of how we did,” Freya said. “We were the winning captain alliance, which is a very good award.”

Freya was the team leader and also in charge of manufacturing the robot.

“We divided all of our work, and everyone did what they were supposed to do,” Freya said. “I did [enjoy working with the people on my team] because I’d never met them before, and it was nice knowing people with similar interests. We got along well and worked really hard, which paid off.”

In all, the AML Championship was a good opportunity for robotics students to test their skills, or for other students to try something new.

“It’s exciting to see our kids compete against other schools and be successful,” Morgan said. “We are looking forward to seeing the growth that continues to happen here and see how they’ll finish up this year in terms of competitions.”

The students themselves can benefit greatly from an experience like this, and not just in robotics skills.

“Personally, I’ve learnt a lot,” Freya said. “[I’ve learned] leadership skills and how to talk to people. I’ve [also] learned a lot in the workshop because there were industrial tools I had never seen before. Since it was my first time, I’d never seen something like that. When we have a final product, it’s very nice to see all of that work come into that one robot. It was tedious but very engaging and fun.”