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Vermont Students and Their Robots Are Headed to Compete in Texas


Published April 13, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

The Batteries Not Included team - COURTESY
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  • The Batteries Not Included team

Sometimes coming in second is just as good as first. That's the lesson South Burlington High School's eight-member robotics team, Batteries Not Included, learned during last month's FIRST Tech Challenge state championships.

The program enlists teams worldwide to build and program robots to complete a series of tasks. In this year's challenge, "Freight Frenzy," students designed bots to transport little plastic whiffle balls and yellow boxes to designated "storage units" and "shipping hubs."

At the state competition on March 19 in Champlain Valley Union High School's gymnasium, 16 teams faced off. As their wheeled robots moved jerkily around a 12-foot-square playing field, announcers narrated the action, refs in black-and-white-striped polo shirts supervised, and spectators cheered.

CVU's RoboHawks took top honors and also won the Inspire Award — given to teams who impressed judges with their design skills, professionalism and ability to overcome challenges. But the SoBu team finished second for the Inspire Award, earning the team a spot in the world championship alongside their Hinesburg competitors. Both teams will head to Houston, Texas, on April 20 to compete.

SBHS coach Ryan Estes, a first-year computer science and robotics technology teacher, said his team's journey so far has had its ups and downs. Weeks before the state competition, Estes said, the team's machine didn't start at a scrimmage match and then shed pieces from its underside. Estes subsequently told the team to "put the pedal to the metal." The students redesigned their robot with new laser-cut parts and an extending arm.

First-year student Myra Waqar said she was "shocked" when she learned her team had won a spot in the world competition, especially because just weeks before the state competition they "didn't have a working robot."

The teens didn't spend much time basking in glory, though. This week, they've been meeting after school to further refine their robot's design before it competes on a bigger stage.

Sophomore Kenyon Smith, who hopes to become an engineer, said he's looking forward to Texas. What makes him most excited?

"Honestly," Smith said, "just seeing other teams' robots and getting ideas from them."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Battling Bots"