Harding Academy’s robotics team earned a return to the FIRST Robotics World Championship by winning the Engineering Inspiration Award last weekend in Florida.
Breakaway 3937 also finished as a regional finalist in the Orlando Regional.
“We’re just really proud of the work [coach] Brian [Jones] and the students and [assistant] Tod Traughber have put into the program, ”Harding Academy High School Principal Brad Francis said. “One of the things that I think is great about robotics is everything they do is applicable to jobs they can do later, from engineering and technology to public relations to communications, all kinds of opportunities to practice things they can then take to a job that would be very useful. ”
Jones said the team left for the Florida trip last Monday and the competition started Thursday and ended Saturday. He said there were 27 students, two parents and eight mentors who went on the trip. There were several countries and nine states represented at the regional.
“What happens is, we bring our robots in, we take them through inspection and make sure they follow the rules,” Jones said. “We have some practice matches to get them all tuned up on Thursday and then on Friday and Saturday we are competing in what’s called qualification matches, and then from those we select our alliances that we want to compete with and our elimination matches, so it’s three on three.
“Out of qualifications, we were ranked fifth and ended up being the third-seeded alliance captain, meaning we were the ones responsible for choosing the other two robots who would join us.”
Jones said being part of the competition was “intense.”
“It’s not our first time, but these kids, you know since COVID and everything happened, most of these kids hadn’t got a chance to experience the chaos that is a run to the championships,” he said. “The elims are about 3 1/2 hours long so they start with the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. This is on Saturday afternoon and those 3 1/2 hours feel like 30 seconds. You bring the robot off, you have to fix it because more than likely something breaks on it. The robot is called Arachnid, because when it climbs, it looks like a scorpion. ”
The students, Jones said, “were super-excited. Being new at it, they really didn’t even know what to expect, so they are just going through it and they’re taking it as it comes, and we had our scouters that were collecting the analytics and the data up in the stands , giving us back information on what to do. We had our drive crew and pit crew that were down there fixing the robot; of course, the drive team driving it. ”
“When we are down there in the pits, you can’t really, you don’t have any time to process, you really don’t,” he said. “You won a quarterfinal now semifinals are six minutes away so as soon as you win one, you have to immediately move on and start focusing on the next one. Going through this, we won one, we move on. We won one, move on, and then when it was all over and they got a chance to sit in the stands and watch the awards ceremony and take a break, they got to really soak in their accomplishments. It was really cool to see the smiles on their face.
“A ton of hard work – we do 12 hours a day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday – so they’re tired, they’re worn out, they’re excited about what they’ve done and how well the robot performed.”
The World Championship, Jones said, will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on April 20-23. Getting the Engineering Inspiration Award also gives the team a $ 5,000 sponsorship from NASA to pay for its World Championship fee.
“We don’t really know who is even going to be able to come yet,” Jones said. “Hopefully, this COVID thing starts to get more behind us. There’s a lot of countries that will be able to come, hopefully we’ll be able to get them all there. ”
Before then, the Arkansas Regional will be held at Rhodes-Reaves Field House on Harding University’s campus April 1-2.
“We are partnering with Beats and Eats for a Tinkerfest that night, so after the event, we’ll roll right out of the Rhodes-Reaves Field House on April first and then they’ll get to have some fun at Tinkerfest,” Jones said. “It will be great for teams and spectators. It will be the same set-up. There will be qualification matches on Friday and Saturday morning and then the eliminations on Saturday, pretty much the exact same set-up we had for Orlando, and it’s free to the public and it will be a blast. We have a Mexico team coming in and several states coming in. ”