Robotics secures second place finish at host tournament

Video by Maeve Trainor

By Valerie Akinyoyenu and Maeve Trainor

The Whitman robotics team placed second in their first district competition in the gymnasium March 10–12, positioning them to qualify for the district championship.

The organization For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology sets the annual challenge used throughout the competition season. This year’s game, entitled “Steamworks,” simulates operating an airship. Teams had six weeks to construct, program and operate a robot capable of collecting and delivering gears to a central tower, launching balls into a replica of a boiler and climbing a rope to board the airship, with points awarded each time a task was completed.

New to this year’s challenge is the inclusion of two human players on the field who position the gears delivered by the robot to help activate spinning airship rotors, similar to those of a helicopter. Points are awarded for each activated rotor.

“The human player strategy also makes a big difference,” freshman Saskia Van Rossum said. “It’s not only about how we design the robot.”

Whitman Robotics, Team 1389, hosted the tournament in Whitman’s main gym with 40 teams from around the District attending. On the first day of competition, Team 1389 encountered complications with their robot’s gear arm and other functionalities, but a collaborative effort by the drive, mechanical, programming and engineering teams helped prepare the robot for the next day.

“Though we were emotionally riding high, we were able to handle a high stress situation,” teacher sponsor Daniel Chen said.

While the team receives guidance from a variety of mentors like Chen during build sessions and competitions, students still run the process.

“Our team is very clearly student-led,” senior Grace Montagnino said. “Most of the days in here, it’s just kids and a parent who is only there to make sure we don’t kill ourselves.”

The team now hopes to qualify for the district championship in April by scoring well enough at the next district tournament Saturday, March 25 at South River High School in Edgewater, MD, to rank among the top 58 teams in the entire district.