Southern Utah robotics team secures state championship bid after placing in three categories
ST. GEORGE — A Hurricane-based robotics team is representing Southern Utah in statewide tournaments, earning multiple awards at a recent competition at West High School in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
The Team Without a Cool Acronym traveled to northern Utah to compete against groups from Utah, Idaho and Colorado. The team, made up of six members, left the competition with the first place trophy for the Think award that recognized the members’ work within their engineering notebook. They also received the second-place Control award and the second place Inspire award, all in their first competition as a FIRST Tech Challenge team.
“We were very surprised because they were a first-year team, so we didn’t expect to come out winning a bunch of awards,” head coach Amy Hummel told St. George News.
Hummel’s team participated in the competition as an early qualifier to assess where the team is and see what improvements could be made in the following qualifying competitions in order to be invited to the state competition in February.
FIRST, which stands for “for the inspiration and recognition of science and technology,” is an organization that strives to introduce younger people the fields of science and technology as well as inspire them to be leaders and innovators in STEM. The entity is using the competitions to engage students in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills and foster professional and personal life skills, such as self-confidence, communication and leadership.
FIRST Tech Challenge teams design, build, program and operate robots that compete in head-to-head challenges during competitions. The teams are advised by coaches and mentors while students develop STEM and professional skills and practice engineering principles. There are 15 FIRST Tech Challenge teams with members ranging from seventh grade students to high school seniors.
Because of their exceptional performance, the team is invited to the state championship at Weber State University where 36 teams will compete for the title on Feb. 22.
Throughout the competition, teams are assessed on a number of aspects, including their engineering notebook, their work in the community and their performance in the different challenges. During the challenges, teams have two minutes and 30 seconds to complete a task with an ally while attempting to outscore their opponents.
The first 30 seconds of each match is completely autonomous — where the robots have been programmed to complete actions without an operator — and the remaining two minutes is driver-controlled. TWCA received the highest autonomous score and the second-highest overall game score heading into the finalist matches out of all 24 teams that competed at the event.
TWCA was founded by two sisters who wanted to start a new community FIRST Tech Challenge team in Southern Utah. The girls partnered with Washington County 4H to organize the team and started to host outreach events where they began to realize a great need within the community.
There were a number of kids who wanted to compete, but there weren’t enough teams to accommodate to number of students. The team recruited new members and immediately began fundraising.
“We rely heavily on sponsorships,” Hummel said. “It is expensive. For us to go to these northern competitions, it’s about $1,000 for our team just in travel.”
Washington County 4H and Dixie State University donated grants to the team, and TWCA secured a “jumpstart” grant from FIRST to register their team during the off-season.
TWCA purchased a starter kit from FIRST and began to build their robot named the Platydroid which the team operates through a program members wrote for their phones and gamepad controllers.
As the team began to collect more donations and secure community sponsors, members were able to purchase and experiment with various building structures before designing and building the Perrytronic 3000, which is the robot they used to compete at most recent competition.
TWCA is registered to compete in two additional qualifiers: one at Southern Utah University on Jan. 25 and the second on Feb. 8 at Dixie State University.