Two tech-savvy groups of robot architects from St. Mary's School are taking their prowess to the international stage.
Teams TNT and C4 will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship April 27-30 at the TWA Dome in St. Louis. Coaches said it's the first time Southern Oregon FIRST teams have advanced this far.
"It's a huge deal. I don't think any of us expected it," said TNT coach Catherine Dauterman. "The kids worked really hard."
The world event will feature 128 teams from 18 countries. Top technology recruiters from corporations such as SpaceX, Boeing and Microsoft will be there, along with representatives from the U.S. Air Force, MIT, Yale and others.
"It's really humbling," said 16-year-old Margaux Quady. "I don't really know how to explain it. It's humbling, and just really, really cool."
FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — an international nonprofit organization based in New Hampshire, organizes multiple robotics competitions annually. Its focus is to get youth interested in science and technology, with competitions such as a First Lego League for grades 4-8, FTC for grades 7-12, and FIRST Robotics for high school students.
The challenge at the world championship event, "Res-Q," was inspired by rescue situations faced by mountain rescue teams. Teams will play in pairs, scoring points by resetting rescue beacons, delivering climbers to a shelter, and parking on mountaintops or repair zones. All attempts are made in a 12-by-12-foot space with a soft foam floor surrounded by a foot-high wall. Each round is 2 minutes and 30 seconds long, with the robots operating autonomously for the first 30 seconds.
Quady said the teams have been at work on their robots since September.
"A constant rethink, rebuild, test, build again," Quady said. "Everyone on your team has so many different ideas, and everyone wants to do something different. It's really hard to bring everything together, but in the end when you do, it's really satisfying."
The two St. Mary's teams qualified following the FTC West Tournament, held in Oakland, Calif., which featured 72 teams from 13 Western states, Canada and Mexico.
"You see all these kids from all these different grades and backgrounds," Quady said. "The differences disappear, and you see kids collaborating with each other."
The participants from FTC West were split into two 36-team divisions: Gold and Silicon. C4 placed fourth in the Silicon division. TNT finished 14th in the Gold division, and also received the Control Award, described as an award that recognizes "innovative thinking in the control system to solve game challenges such as autonomous operation, enhancing mechanical systems with intelligent control, or using sensors to achieve better results on the field," according to the FTC website.
"We're really quite delighted that both teams were able to advance," said C4 coach Ted Willhite.
Programmer Gordon Dauterman, 15, said the competition will be a little intimidating, but he's confident the team has advanced as far as it has because of continuous hard work.
"We realize that we need to bring all we can to the table," Gordon said. "We're right in there. It's not like we just got in there on a whim. We have a chance to do really well."