Robotics teams make it far


With their robot, juniors Mira Iyer and Gracie Steinmeyer and a member of their team, Embry Rickman, work together. On March 5, their team competed in the Robotics State competition in Rolla. (Photo used with permission by Mira Iyer).

Mary Corkery, Of The Talon staff

The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is an annual robotics competition for students around the world. Teams compete in local qualifiers before moving  to regional and national championships. This year’s Missouri-Kansas championship was held on March 5 in Rolla, where  juniors Gracie Stienmeyer and Mira Iyer from the P3 team and freshman Tejus Krishnan from Force Green competed. The competitions consist of a  game where small robots must complete multiple tasks, said Steinmeyer, in both live and pre-programmed sections.

“You have to design and program an 18 by 18 by 18 inch robot to complete as many of the tasks as possible. There’s an autonomous period where you have to program the robot to move around the field on its own, and then there’s the driver-controlled period where you use gamepads to drive the robot around,” Stienmeyer said.

The games are based on different real-world issues. This year’s season focused on postal service during the pandemic, Iyer said.

“Each year they have a different issue, and this year it is the mail delivery service. It was largely based on Amazon with COVID and how that’s been expedited. This season is called Freight Frenzy and it is all about delivering freight to proper places and making sure things are balanced,” Iyer said.

There are many different tasks that need to be completed throughout the competition, like sorting objects into the shipping hub, a circular structure with three shelf-like levels. The teams, Iyer said, do this individually and with other competing groups.

“Some of the tasks are taking boxes and balls and putting them on different levels of an alliance hub. You want to try and keep it balanced, because that’s extra points. You can also put it on the shared hub, where two alliances can use it. There’s two alliances and two robots. The shared alliance hub is shared between both of  them, and you want to get it to tilt to one side,” Iyer said.

After the game in the morning, the competition has an alliance section, where multiple teams work together to defeat other competitors. P3 was a part of the winning alliance, Steinmeyer said. 

“It was really exciting to be a part of the winning alliance. The top four teams get to select other teams to be a part of an alliance, and they compete in a bracket. We were the second picked team, so we were one slot too low to go to World,” Steinmeyer said.

The 3 highest ranked teams and the first two teams picked for the winning alliance are guaranteed a spot at the world championship in Houston, but teams are also able to move forward through the FTC awards. There are 9 different awards, 7 of which are advancing. They judges assess teams for awards through presentations abou the team’s season so far, Krishnan said.

“You have a five minute presentation to the judges about your goals, mistakes, and how you’ve recovered from them,” Krishnan said.

 The Promote Award, for instance, is given to the team who creates the best video using FTC’s prompt. P3 won this award, so their video will be entered into the global competition. The winning video, Iyer said, will become a commercial for FIRST.

“”The prompt this year was “What would you tell your former self about FIRST?”, so we created a whole video based on that, and we got the award for that, so that’s pretty cool. It’ll be entered in World. If it wins, it will be made into a commercial for FIRST,” Steinmeyer said.

While most awards are for teams, the Dean List’s Award spotlights a certain team member for their leadership ability. Finalists are chosen from the regional competition to go to the championship in Houston. Steinmeyer was 

selected, and said she is excited to be able to attend and watch, even if she’s not competing. 

“Dean’s List is the only individual award and you win it by being a strong leader, and the person motivating your team. You normally play an integral part in either the robot or the programming,” Steinmeyer said. “At the state level, they select at least 4 finalists, and I was one of those, so I’m going to be entered in World. It’ll be really exciting to go to World even if my team’s not competing,” Steinmeyer said.