Combine the excitement of a high school sporting event with the educational value of creating the equivalent of a high-tech product launch and you'll have some idea of the atmosphere of the robotics competition that took place at Summit High School last Saturday.
Eighteen teams from across Central Oregon and a few from the Willamette Valley gathered to test the qualities of robots they funded, designed and built in a competition that requires robots to perform tasks that challenge agility and maneuverability and require teams to strategize as to how best to capitalize on their particular unit's strengths.
The competition was part of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), created by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.
Sisters High School's "Brotherhood of Steel" took fifth place among the 18 teams.
Coach/mentor Joey Hougham noted that the Brotherhood was a team of two in the face of much larger teams. Devon Cash and the newly recruited Nolan Ferwalt deployed their robot in the tournament. Wyatt Hougham, who worked on its design, could not attend the tournament because he was committed to a constitutional law competition in Portland.
FTC promotes a strong ethic that is just as important as success in the arena. The motto is "gracious professionalism," and cooperation among teams is a high priority. Teams compete in pairs, parceling out tasks and roles that best suit each team and its robot
And there's much more to the program than designing an effective robot. Teams must the involved in their communities and raise funds for relatively stiff entry fees, travel, etc. The Brotherhood's outreach included demos at last year's Sisters Science Club Science Fair and demonstrations for their peers at Sisters High
Hougham noted that one of the key skills developed by the participants was prioritization forced by constraints on resources.
"I think they did a good job with that," he said.
The real-world applicability of the program is significant.
"It is like a new product development and launch into the marketplace," Hougham said.
While the program is educational in many ways, it's also just a lot of fun.
"The kids have a blast," Hougham said.
The Brotherhood of Steel will compete again on February 8 at Oregon State University.