Battle of the Bots in Carson City
Calm, cool and collected 15-year-old Rylan Fancher positioned his thumbs on his controller.
His team leader, Allan Huntington, 17, confidently placed Robot 12445 into the Velocity Vortex — also known as the battlefield.
The goal was to get their pre-programmed robots to knock balls on certain colors of the ring.
This wasn’t their first rodeo.
“We usually use this robot just for testing,” Huntington said. “But we’re actually going to use it since we got it up and running.”
Representing the robotic club in the color purple, Carson City’s “Team Captain” competed against three other local tech teams at Western Nevada College on Wednesday to construct and operate the best robot.
The best robot must pre-programmed and designed to automatically move and park, and is able to follow manual controls.
The teams consisted of students in seventh through 12 grades from Eagle Valley, Reno, Truckee Meadows and Virginia City, as a part of First Inspiration and Recognition of Science Technology Tech Challenge, a non-profit nationwide club for students that supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives. This was the second meet of the month, leading to regional championships in Tacoma, Wash., in March.
But once the referee announced the first match of the night, Robot 12245 didn’t budge, as its programs were a bit delayed.
“Some of the biggest challenges were wiring some of the mechanisms,” said Henry Sturm, 18, also of Team Captain. “But we added new elements this year and we all worked hard on it.”
Team Captain consists of 10 passionate technology students from Carson High School. They’ve prepared for this meet since August and spent more than $1,000 to add new features to recycled robots. Since the team is so large for its area, it had to split up into two: Team C and Team K.
Despite that both teams were placed second and third — defeated by Reno’s Coral Academy of Science — students still enjoyed the competition and aren’t giving up to make it to the regional championships.
Nicholas Bowler, 18, surpassed his third year with Team Captain. His brother, Luke, 16, is also part of the team. Even though the team is divided, it’s about conquering as one, Nicholas said.
On top of the meet, Bowler had quite the day; he also received his acceptance letter to University of Nevada, Reno, to pursue his degree in computer science engineering.
“It’s more than just the competition,” Nicholas said. “It’s everything. I love the responsibilities we have when building as a team.”
Parents also supported building a foundation with their children’s career interest in technology. Bowler’s mother, Michelle, volunteered as a facilitator in the meet for the first time. She also was a part of the Lego League, another program in conjunction with FIRST, supporting grades 4-8.
“My kids love programming,” she said. “We’re always excited to be a part of these challenges.”
To host the event also was a first for WNC.
“This is a college-driven community and we want potential future students to feel comfortable,” said Emily Howarth, WNC professor of industrial technology.
One father and daughter carried on their legacy together not only with Team Captain, but with the FIRST program overall. Scot Duncan and his daughter, Nanami, 14, have been involved for the last four years.
Duncan is a coach for the team. He said the hands-on experience in technology education was important from him and Nanami.
“They are not just focusing on robotics,” he said. “They learn about engineering, teamwork, budgeting, management and public speaking. It involves taking risks with test and trial. It involves community outreach because they have the opportunity to teach others about robotics. It’s more realistic than to sit in a room and think of ideas.”
“This is my first year in this challenge,” Nanami said. “It’s nice to have dad by my side while I gain a new experience.”
The third meet of the challenge will be held Jan. 11 at McQueen High School in Reno. The FIRST Lego League will be held at Eagle Valley Middle School 8 a.m. on Saturday.
Out of the 20 teams competing, only three will go to FIRST Tech Challenge state championships Feb. 4 in Las Vegas.
Although most robots bumped and crashed into one another during the seven matches, there’s a deeper meaning to it, Huntington said.
“We’re not just a bunch of kids building robots and having fun,” he said. “It’s a serious competition for us that we enjoy.”