Robotics team reaches semifinals

Though they probably represented the smallest school of nearly 350 high schools from around the world, students at Collbran’s Plateau Valley High School robotics team don’t feel like the underdogs anymore.

Nineteen students under the name 1332-SWIFT traveled to Atlanta last weekend for an international competition and fought their way to the semifinal round, finishing in the top 16.

Students in the robotics class designed and engineered a robot tasked with launching basketballs into the trailers of opponents’ robots. The rules specified that it had to weigh in at less than 120 pounds and run on about 12 volts.

After building the robot in January and February and later naming it Tater Chip, students were shocked when their team placed well enough at competitions in Denver and San Diego to qualify for the Atlanta competition.

The Atlanta competition was hosted by nonprofit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

“We lost to the team that went on to win it all,” said junior Ashley Travis. “I never thought we’d ever see Atlanta, much less to do so well. It definitely set some higher expectations for us in the future.”

For about half of the team, the competition meant was their first ride in an airplane or their first glimpse of an ocean, said robotics teacher Steve Langely. Students who seemed shy at the Collbran school of about 100 let loose during the meets, making friends with other students from countries around the world. Even while prom was under way, some robotics students were more engaged with planning for next year’s competitions than the dance, he said.

The class has renewed students’ interests in math and science and has created a sensation among students in the elementary and middle schools eager to get into the class, Langely said. A couple of robotics students have speaking engagements in Denver to talk about their projects.

“It does a lot more for the kids than building a robot,” Langely said.

Senior Brevin Currier, who with senior Justin Gross was a robot driver, said the experience was “probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever been involved in.”

Currier said he plans to come back and work as a mentor next year and hopes to jump-start a program for elementary and middle school students to create robots.

“I’m really proud of it,” Currier said. “Just the confidence that we can do something great like this.”


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