ASHEVILLE — The Watauga High School Robotics Team took home a victory in the FIRST Tech Challenge Tournament on Feb. 1 in Asheville.
FIRST —For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is a nonprofit and youth organization. According to FIRST, it aims to design accessible and innovative programs to motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. The competition tasked students with designing, building and programming a robot to compete in head-to-head challenges against machines designed by other teams.
With its victory in the regional competition in Asheville, Watauga’s team — known as Tungsteel — earned a spot to compete in the state championship on Feb. 29 in Greensboro. Watauga’s team was also awarded the contest’s Collins Aerospace Innovate Award and scored a tournament-high of 111 points — outpacing their competition by 15 points.
The Robotics Team adviser, WHS teacher Dinah Miller, said the contest tested her students on a wide variety of skills and disciplines.
“There are about 12-16 students involved in the robotics club,” Miller said. “Most of the members are focused on the team as a builder, designer, coder or manager. The builders work on making the robot, the designers create the 3D printed parts; the coders do some magic that is beyond my comprehension, and the manager focuses on keeping the engineering notebook up to date and making sure that everyone is on task and has a role that best suits their skills. The team also has a leading manager who, along with the other tasks, does a lot of outreach to work with finding sponsorships with local businesses to help buy parts for the robot.”
Miller said the students drew on concepts they studied in their career and technical education classes at WHS.
“The students use skills learned in various CTE courses such as IT and drafting to help them with robot design,” Miller said. “There were a lot of 3D printed parts on the robot this year that the students custom made. WHS welding teacher Steve Ward was also accommodating this year, helping the students with the machining that was needed to assemble the robot.”
While the Robotics Club students had support from teachers and staff at WHS, Miller said the bulk of the work was student-led and driven.
“The team did every single thing this year completely on their own,” Miller said. “They designed every part, tightened every screw, wrote every line of code. These kids did it all themselves. They even registered themselves for the qualifier events. I am embarrassingly proud of how little work there was to do as their ‘coach’ because of how determined and resourceful these kids were on their own; it’s awe-inspiring.”
The Watauga Robotics Team can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by searching for “Watauga Robotics” as well as on YouTube by searching for “5881 Tungsteel.”