April 25, 2013

Friends’ Students Win Highest Award at Robotics World Championship


Coach Jason with the victorious Rocky Mountain πrates

Friends’ School students Cameron H. (5th grade), Jack K. (5th), and Quinn K. (2nd), calling themselves the Rocky Mountain πrates robotics team, traveled last week to Anaheim, California to compete in the VEX Robotics World Championships.   After three days of fierce competition, where 71 elementary and middle school teams from all around the country controlled their hand crafted robots through a series of challenges, the Rocky Mountains πrates team won three awards, including 1st place in the overall Excellence Award – the highest award of the competition.  

VEX IQ is a new educational robotics platform that allows students to build their own robots using snap-together plastic pieces and a selection of motors and sensors.  Six weeks prior to the competition, the πrates were given their equipment and a description of the challenges that their robot would need to complete.  Their robots were required to pick tennis balls from a 4’x8’ “field” and deposit as many of them as possible into goal containers in 90 seconds. The team designed and built their own robots from the supplied parts, guided by their coaches Jason Kiefer and Cathy Olkin.  The boys dubbed their robot “The Elephant Bot” because of its unique adjustable “trunk” that incorporated a reversible, and lift-able conveyer system.

Upon arriving in Anaheim, the team went through a grueling three-day schedule that included four separate elements.  Each element was reviewed by judges and awards were handed out based on their findings:

The Robot Skills Challenge:  The team takes their robot to the field and attempts to score as many points as possible in 60 seconds.  The Friends’ School team tied for first place with two middle school teams by putting all 18 tennis balls on one side of the field into the high goal and “parking” the robot on a bridge. Due to tie-breaking rules, the boys were awarded 3rd place in Robot Skills.  

The STEM Project:  The πrates collaborated to research and present a mock magazine article that detailed the major past and future robotic space missions that had a notable local connection.  They found that four of NASA’s major space exploration missions have a significant Boulder connection.

The Engineering Notebook: Each team kept a log of their design ideas and decisions in an engineering notebook.  They documented the many features of their robots and described in detail how they worked.  The teams presented these to the judges during a 15-minute interview.

Victory Jump!
The Teamwork Challenge:  At the core of the VEX IQ, two robots are paired with the goal of obtaining as many points as possible in 90 seconds. The Rocky Mountain πrates reached the finals with the top qualifying score. This face off was nail-biting right to the end.  Needing a perfect score, if the πrates alliance missed just one ball they would not win.  Fortunately all of their practice paid off, as Jack and Quinn, the two drivers of that round, with Cameron cheering them on, made it look easy as they quickly put all 18 balls into the high goal and skidded to a stop at the top of the ramp to become the first Vex IQ Teamwork Challenge World Champions.

Friends’ was also represented at the middle school level by 7th grade alum Lucas K. and his friend Zach O. They fared well, making it to the finals of the Teamwork Challenge, ultimately finishing in 6th place. Their “C-argh-o Bot” featured a dual conveyer system and a counter-balanced ball hopper. Lucas and Zach won The Think Award, which goes to a team that had the best scoring strategy during the Robot Skills.   The judges based their choice on the fact that they were able to rebuild their robot - after it arrived damaged from air travel - and for their unique counterbalance system.

The Excellence Award: Top All-Around Team
Cameron, Jack and Quinn were given the Excellence Award for Elementary teams, the only award that was separated for Middle School and Elementary.  The Excellence Award is the highest award presented to the team that exemplifies overall excellence in creating a well-rounded robotics program.
Talking to executives from VEX and TI
The Friends’ team excelled as “a shining example of dedication, devotion, hard work and teamwork.”

Perhaps more than the awards, the highlight of the event was when the founder and CTO of Vex stopped by the Friends’ students’ pit area with two executives from Texas Instruments.  Cameron, Jack and Quinn spent 15 minutes demonstrating their robot and talking to the executives about their design.  Quinn (who is 7 years old) reviewed the team’s entire 20-page design notebook with the founder, describing every element of the reasoning behind the  robot's design.

The founder of VEX said he was exceptionally impressed by our students’ understanding of engineering that he doesn't even see in all high school and college students. He raved about their communication skills, their ability to understand complex concepts, and their overall enthusiasm and passion. He asked the parents twice where the πrates went to school.

Friends’ School, Friends’ School!

All of us at Friends’ are extremely proud of our Robotics World Champions and overjoyed to hang their winning banners at our front door.

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