This past weekend over 1,400 robotics teams and 20,000 students, from kindergarten to high school, gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park for the FIRST Robotics world championships.
The event was first held in Houston last year, and it will continue in 2019 and 2020.
The featured event is the high school robotics competition, which had 400 teams from 28 countries, including 10 from the Houston area: Duquesne Academy, St. Agnes Academy and Strake Jesuit, Jersey Village High School, Awty International School, College Park High School in Conroe, Cinco Ranch High School, Clear Creek High School, and Stafford High School.
This was Stafford’s second appearance in the world championships. The Spartans qualified this year by finishing second in the Lone Star Central Regional Championship in March.
The high school competition has six divisions of 66 teams each. Two alliances composed of three teams each compete to perform several tasks such as picking up boxes and stacking them in specific locations. The final task of the 2.5-minute competition is to have the robot lift itself at least 12 inches off the ground. The alliance with the most points is the winner.
The Spartans gave it a strong effort but could not overcome some mechanical issues and finished 65th out 67 teams in their division.
“We had a great regional tournament in March,” Stafford coach Frank Hoang said. “Our robot worked fine but we felt we needed to improve it to compete at the world championships. The rules restrict us from making any changes until right before the competition, so we were up late making last minute changes. We just ran out of time.”
The first day of competition, Stafford had some robot problems in grasping and controlling the boxes.
“We kept a log of everything that we needed to improve on the first day and went to the practice field and worked on each issue. Our pit area neighbors were a big help in finding solutions to our issues,” Stafford mentor Byron Thompson said. “We felt we had solved the robot issues, and for the second day, we just needed to execute.”
Unfortunately, day two was not much better. The Stafford team was disappointed, but they have been in existence for only three years and have qualified for the world championships twice. A record most teams would like to have.
Buster Irby, a retired bio-medical engineer and parent of Stafford graduates, heard about the team and decided he wanted to help.
“I am the wrong type of engineer for this, but I can help with strategy and take some of the load off Frank and Byron. The future is robotics and I want to help encourage as many kids as I can to get involved,” he said.
The Stafford season is not over yet, as they are one of 32 teams that have been invited to compete in the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) high school robotics championship. The UIL is separate from FIRST but it uses the same game format for its state championship competition.
“We are very happy to have been picked to compete for the state high school championships,” Hoang said. “We are one of just 32 teams selected.”
Several local teams had better luck in their FIRST divisions. Cinco Ranch’s CRyptonite team finished eighth out of 67 teams in its division and made it to the division semifinals before losing. Clear Creek’s Robonauts, world champions in 2015, finished fourth out of 67 teams in its division and made it to the division finals before losing.
The championship finals were again held in Minute Maid Park to accommodate the large crowd. This year’s world champion alliance was composed of teams from San Jose, Calif., Sammamish, Wash., Israel, and the Robo Wranglers from Greenville, Texas.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 and today has over 59,000 teams, 515,000 students from kindergarten to high school, and 150,000 coaches and mentors.