The brightest middle and high school minds in the region could be found at the Technical College High School (TCHS) Brandywine Campus on Sept. 7, launching into robotics season with the Pennsylvania FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Kickoff.
Teams at 44 local kickoff events throughout North America tuned in for the online game reveal. Representing the eastern region of Pennsylvania were “Wrench in the Works” from Chester County Robotics in Downingtown, the “Decepticons” from the TCHS Pickering Campus in Phoenixville, the “Autobots” from the TCHS Brandywine Campus in Downingtown, “Minnie MASH” from the Friends of 401 in West Vincent Township, the “Fightin’ Irish” from the Academy of Notre Dame in Villanova, “Live Wire” from Chester County Robotics in Downingtown, “Igutech” from Schnecksville, the “Tin Mints” from the Girls Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania in Delaware County, the “Out of the Box Robotics” from Thorndale, the “Sab-BOT-age” from Downingtown Area Robotics, Inc. in Downingtown and “The Hawks” from Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square.
"Hundreds of students from across the county and region gathered at TCHS to prepare for another competitive year in the world of robotics,” said Seth Schram, principal of the TCHS Brandywine Campus. “We were honored and thrilled to host this fantastic event. Congratulations from TCHS Brandywine to the Autobots, who have set the standard very high."
At the big unveiling at 3 p.m., a white sheet in the center of the cafeteria was tossed aside to reveal a complex game of plastic blocks. With that, the teens becan calculating how to create the perfect robot -- one that would be capable not only of scoring the most points by placing blocks into pendulum goals, but also of raising a team alliance flag up a flagpole and lifting itself off the ground using a platform pull-up bar.
“Picking up blocks sounds easy, but getting a robot to pick up four randomly placed blocks at once, and placing them with precision, will require a lot of thought and hard work,” explained John Cilladi, the electronics and robotics instructor at TCHS Brandywine Campus. “Our team members left the kickoff event excitedly discussing how we can accomplish the task with speed and efficiency.”
Angela Villalva of the “Decepticons” loves the versatility of the game, saying it tops the past two years in her opinion. “There is so much to consider when weighing how much balance is required,” she said. “And then you could also have the robot do a pull-up or even raise the flag, so many options!”
Now in her third year at the TCHS Pickering Campus in the electronics and robotics program, Villalva hopes to spend her junior year becoming an expert in programming.
“Robots are the future. Even for things like surgery, it’s machines more and more,” she explained, noting that she hopes to attend Drexel University to study mechatronics.
The goal of FIRST Tech Challenge is to encourage young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. High school students gain hands-on programming and prototyping experience throughout the robot design phase, and learn to work as a team when competing and cooperating in alliances at the tournaments.
Workshops have been scheduled throughout October, with the first scrimmage taking place on Nov. 2 in Ambler. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Qualifying Tournament will be held at Oxford Area High School on Nov. 16, followed by the Pennsylvania FTC Championship Tournament at Millersville University on March 1.