Robot Wars

The convention center is packed. The roar of the crowd is deafening. Music blares through the loudspeakers. Painted faces sport high school colors. Sheer adrenaline sets the tone. It’s not a football or basketball game. But it is a harsh, brutal competition and the fans aren’t cheering for people – they’re cheering for robots. It’s the scene that awaits the robotics teams from Edmond Memorial High School and Santa Fe High School at the regional competition of the FIRST Robotics Competition. They’ll be putting their robots in the arena to compete with 53 others from around the state.

The name of the game is LUNACY. In part, the name comes from the low-friction surface of a playing field that simulates lunar gravity. Each robot tows a trailer capable of carrying “moon rocks” – small balls that robots collect as they travel the field. The rub, however, is that picking up moon rocks doesn’t score a team points. Putting them in the opponents’ trailers does. Six robots, randomly sorted into two alliances of three each, take the field at a time. This puts each team in the awkward and unpredictable situation of cooperating with other teams sight unseen. Each match lasts two minutes. During the first 15 seconds, robots rely entirely on their programming. For the remainder of the match the robots are teleoperated by team members.

Santa Fe sophomore and programmer Kaleb Whiteley makes no secret of the reason he and his team members spent hundreds of hours putting together their robot. Says Whiteley, “There’s so much excitement, so much action, so much it. For instance, if your robot breaks, you’ve got to fix it in five minutes. Just being there, doing that – the adrenaline rush is amazing.”

“The payoff is the thrill of the competition,” says Santa Fe sophomore and assembly team member, Daniel Dewey. “You either win as a team or lose as a team. This is a great bonding experience.”

“I mainly do this because it’s a lot of fun and I love the competition,” says Edmond Memorial senior Xiao Zheng. The kids do it for the fun. The teachers do, too. But they’re also operating with an ulterior motive – learning.

Opportunities to learn are endless. These kids have so much fun putting together their ‘bots that they may not have stopped to notice they were learning electrical and mechanical engineering, not to mention computer coding and design.
Santa Fe Team Leader and math teacher Randy Blackwood says, “I’ve always felt like there’s a need to get the kids exposed to what engineering is about – to let them see it outside the standard classroom settings. Maybe we’ll get some students that normally wouldn’t think about being engineers to see that there’s something really cool about being in a technical field.”

“The FIRST robotics competition teaches students valuable lessons about teamwork, problem solving and future careers, and is a tool to get them interested about careers in math, science, engineering and technology,” says Harold Holley, U.S. FIRST Oklahoma regional director. “We hope it inspires students and shows them that there are other career professions than basketball, football or going to Hollywood as an actor.” 

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