Robotics Competition, Wrap Up

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As expected, the Bexley robot was not selected to join a team for the elimination rounds, so we were done competing when the qualification rounds ended. The kids all seemed to take this fairly well.

I’m really glad I attended the event, and wandered around the pits, because it let me see a lot of things that aren’t obvious about this competition. First, the word “competition” is something of a misnomer. Sure, each team is vying for a top spot, but the teams were genuinely working together in their alliances, and were genuinely happy for (and with) one another after each victory. I didn’t see any gloating; nor did I see any trash talk. The level of sportsmanship seemed very high to me.

Indeed, one team had a banner that read “coopertition”, which pretty adequately summarizes this event. Many of the teams had buttons and stickers to share. I saw more than a few kids walking around adorned in every single button they could find. Whether there was some higher purpose to collecting all the available swag or not, it was nice enough to see folks interacting and visiting other team’s pits.

I was quite surprised by the quantity of big-name sponsors. NASA, Boeing, General Motors, various industrial manufacturers, software companies, and more. It’s not clear to me how “sponsorship” relates to “mentorship”, because some of these teams had very sophisticated setups, beyond what I’d expect from a group of high school students. But I suppose if your parents, and your friends’ parents, all work at NASA and GM and Boeing, you’re all likely to pick up a lot more from your everyday home life than if your parents work at, say, a bank.

Some things I saw were of the “Oh, why didn’t we think of that!” variety, like the team that had a pit crew check list for all the things to check before and after every match: check for loose wheel bolts, grease third stage gear, battery charged, etc. Other things were of the “Hmmm… did students really do that on their own?” One team had animated CAD models demonstrating the function of various parts of their robot. I didn’t get a chance to ask these guys if they did this before, during, or after the construction of their robot.

One of the most refreshing things I saw in the pits was the diversity of participants. It wasn’t just boys building robots. There were two all-girl teams: the Girls of Steel, with their Rosie the Riveter motif, and the SWAT Girl With Wrench team. I think I only saw one team comprised of only boys, and if I remember correctly this team was from an all-boys school. All of the other teams had a healthy mix of male and female participants; and most teams clearly had girls involved in the construction of the robot.

On the drive home my brain was full of ideas on how to improve the Bexley team’s effort for next year. I don’t want to subvert the students’ initiative in this, but I would like to encourage a more continuous effort throughout the year, rather than just a six week sprint during the competition period. I’d also like to see the incorporation of lessons learned from this event, and the traits of successful robots. Those that don’t learn from the past, and all that…


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