Robotics team qualifies for their first VRC World Championship

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Grace Kaempfe

During Robotics Club, sophomores David Meisinger and Rick Biswas build a robot that they competed with in local competitions. Freshman Joseph Britt notes that cooperation was an important factor in the team qualifying for worlds. “Our team is mostly new people, so it is pretty exciting that we were able to work together,” Britt said. “I really like the environment there, and we have been spending a lot of our weekends working on the bot. We aren’t fighting over jobs or fighting over who gets to do what or [over] what the bot should do. We are all able to work together and execute it as a team.”

At the beginning of the school year, Blue Brains, one of the schools four robotics teams, set various goals, including making it to state. After not only qualifying for state but winning the competition, they reached their final goal, something that the team had only joked about: qualifying for the  2020 Vex Robotics Competition (VRC) World Championship.

This is the first year that all of the school’s robotics teams have made it to the state championship, and Blue Brains, a team of seven, is the first team from the school that has qualified for the VRC World Championship. Junior Kunal Addaggarla, senior programmer, codes the robot that competes.

“We create a robot from scratch from materials we get from VEX, who is the whole company doing all this. They provide all the materials and play a big part in the competition,” Addaggarla said. 

Each year, VEX poses a new challenge that their robots must be able to complete. This year’s challenge was titled, ‘Tower Takeover.’

“Essentially, you stack a whole bunch of cubes [into] towers, and you get more points based on how many cubes you stack,” Addaggarla said. “The robot has to do everything, from stacking the cubes to putting the cubes on the towers. You have a controller, much like an Xbox controller, that is connected to the brain, and you basically just play.”

The team begins with the sketching process, where they figure out the size and dimensions of their robot. There are many roles that a team member could have, ranging from programmers to builders. Freshman Joseph Britt is a driver of the robot.

“I have always been interested in robotics, but I have never been on a robotics team,” Britt said.  “When I was in middle school, I was deciding on high schools, and one of the main reasons I chose Parkway West was because I really liked the robotics program and all of its facilities. I want to be an engineer when I grow up, and when I was younger, I did the LEGO robotics kits. I have always enjoyed building things that move.”

Winning state was a surprise for Blue Brains, as they set a team record and made school history as the first team to have ever done so.

“For the final match of the state competition, we actually set a record with 112 points,” Addaggarla said. “I felt pretty good. We had been to state many times before, but we never actually won. I felt really self-satisfied, finally being able to do something after so many tries.”

Courtesy of Levi Ladd
From left to right, freshman Joseph Britt, sophomore David Meisinger, fresham Isaac Porter, junior Levi Ladd, junior Jack Wild, sophomore Rick Biswas and junior Kunal Addagarla stand with their VEX state championship trophies.
Not pictured is freshman Anushka Dharmasanam.

After competing, they calculate their scores. Britt remembers the moment the team found out they had won.

“It was a little stressful, but I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. We had had a lot of practice,” Britt said. “The numbers of cubes are usually fairly close, so you’re sitting there calculating the numbers, and everyone stands around while you’re doing that. When we found out we won, our whole robotics group cheered up in the stands. It was a pretty fun moment.”

As of March 12, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the VRC World Championship has been cancelled. Team leader and junior Levi Ladd reflects on the cancellation.

“It is upsetting and disappointing that we can’t go to those competitions, but it was super amazing and gratifying to win state and to see all of the work that we had put into our robot result in something good,” Ladd said. “My reaction was initially sadness and anger, but the anger quickly faded as I realized why the events were canceled. I was still fairly upset because we couldn’t go compete and show off our robot and all of the amazing things that it can do.”

Despite the loss of an opportunity to compete at a world championship, the team kept their spirits high and focused on the future.

“We had talked and agreed that we definitely wanted to celebrate what a great season we had,” Ladd said. “We also decided that we wanted to start earlier in the season next year so that we would have more of a head start and would likely do better.”