Robotics students show their stuff at Mountlake Terrace High School

Student engineers from across Washington state gathered at Mountlake Terrace High School Dec. 7 to compete in a robotics competition using their original designs.

VEX Robotics competitions bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills to life as middle and high school students design and build a robot to compete against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge. The competition includes year-round tournaments offered at regional, state and national levels with finalists competing for top honors in the VEX Robotics World Championship in April.

This year, students competed in the VEX Robotics Competition Tower Takeover, which is played on a 12-by-12-foot square field and involves placing cubes in towers or scoring goals to earn points. Each tower field has 66 cubes and seven towers for the cubes to be placed in.

After each championship, students are told what the next game will be, giving them time to design a robot that will serve them best while competing. For instance, this year’s competition involved picking and carrying cubes to place them in high towers or stacking them in a goal zone. Some designs allowed the robot to gather cubes and transport them in stacks.

During the game, two teams — one red, the other blue — form alliances and use their robots to compete against other pairs. The object of the game is to attain a higher score than the opposing alliance.

In the competition, cubes are worth at least one point when placed in a goal zone. The exact value of each cube is determined by how many cubes of a specific color — green, orange and purple — have been placed in the towers. When cubes are placed in or removed from towers, the new values apply to all cubes. This means that the actions of one robot will impact the potential score for both their own alliance, and their opponents.

Matches consisted of a 15-second autonomous period, followed by a one-minute, forty-five second driver-controlled period. The alliance that scored more points in the autonomous period was awarded six bonus points, added to the final score at the end of the match. The alliance who won the autonomous bonus was also awarded two purple cubes, which could be introduced at any time during the driver control period.

The competition was held last weekend in the school’s gymnasium, while teams awaiting their shot in the field prepped their designs in the school’s common area, which was renamed “the Pit” for the purposes of the event.

While competing, students don’t just learn about engineering design, they also learn team building skills, said Robotics Education and Competition Foundation Regional Support Manager Lisa Schultz.

“This really helps with developing soft skills like communication, game strategy, (and learning how to) meet people you never met before,” she said.

This year’s competition featured 33 registered teams — 25 high school level and eight middle school level — from across the state. Six of the teams were from Mountlake Terrace.

This is the first time Mountlake Terrace High School has hosted the competition. Teams from visiting schools paid a $60 registration fee, while the fee is waived for the host school. Funds collected from the registration fees will go toward the school’s VEX Robotics Club, said Mountlake Terrace High School robotics instructor Khin Wone.

“We help each other out, so that each school hosting (the competition) can benefit from it,” she said.

The competition also involves strategy while forming an alliance, Schultz said. After participating in qualification matches, teams are ranked based on performance. The top contenders then pick their alliance teams to compete with for the rest of the elimination.

“All day they’re scouting and figuring which robot is the best pair for them,” she said.

Between September and February, Schultz said teams are constantly improving on their work, which they document in an engineering notebook that is submitted to the competition’s judges.

Tournament Winners Exothermic Evolution and Exothermic Creation from the Exothermic Robotics club in Redmond. (Photo by Nathaniel Reyes)

“We’re really hoping for students to iterate multiple times and learn the process of trying something, testing something and reiterating it,” she said.

After hours of competing, the winners of the VEX Robotics Competition Tower Takeover were:

  • Judges’ Award: V-bots “Gear Guys,” from Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens
  • Skills Award: Exothermic Evolution, from the Exothermic Robotics club in Redmond
  • Design Award: Exothermic Creation, from the Exothermic Robotics club in Redmond
  • Tournament Winners: Exothermic Evolution and Exothermic Creation, from the Exothermic Robotics club in Redmond
  • Excellence Award (Highest award, judges consider all aspects of the competition when deciding who to give this award to): Exothermic Danger, from the Exothermic Robotics club in Redmond

–Story by Cody Sexton

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