It was a chaotic and exciting scene as 62 teams, including the Shawnee High School Robo Pack, transported and competed with their self-constructed robots at the First Robotics Regional Competition at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City Friday.
According to SHS math teacher and robotics coach Josh Watson, the team took fourth place.
He explained each year teams form all over the state build their own robots and compete for a chance to be the world champion.
“They have six weeks...then when they come (to the competition) there are several parts to it,” Watson said. “The main part that everyone likes to watch is the competition where they’re actually driving the robot.”
The educator explained the robot must move on its own for the first 15 seconds. Then the “driver” can take control with the joystick and maneuver the robot to climb and pick up items.
“They play the game and try to win ranking points so that they can get into the finals on Saturday and then if they win in the finals they get to go to World which is in Houston,” Watson said.
While there is the competition side of Regionals, Watson explained judges also walk around the “pits” or the teams’ holding station and look closer at the robot. They are judged on engineering, safety, record keeping and other such aspects.
“The main thing they like to say is they don’t use students to build robots they use robots to build students,” Watson said.
Named in honor of the competition’s space theme, the Pack named the robot Laika after the first dog to visit space.
Watson and machinist, Randy Schultz mentor the students and offer them guidance in their building process but for the most part the work is done by the students.
“We kind of help facilitate…but they have to design it, come up with the ideas, figure out what they want to do, figure how they’re going to be able to do it and then within that time frame they have to put it together…,” Watson said.
For the last 10 years Schultz has mentored the SHS Robo Pack and explained he thinks the students gain experience and a good work ethic.
“These students see things that I work with every day and they’re taught to be responsible for things,” Schultz said. “They have to come in and do their job. I don’t do it for them…I’m one of them.”
Watson explained it’s also beneficial for students to participate in Robotics because they learn how to think critically, build things and work with others.
“Anything they could get out of a regular athletic team sport I think they get that side of it as well as team comradery…, Watson said.
The Pack also have the opportunity to network, apply for scholarships and meet other Robotic teams from around the country.
There are many different parts to the team including engineering, programming and safety that are all vital for creating Laika and executing its functionality.
SHS senior and Safety Captain Mandy Surdy has been a member of the Pack for four years and said it’s fun and a great way to make friends.
“Once you connect with your team it’s not really like a team it’s a family,” Surdy said.
Surdy is in charge of keeping the team, Laika, the pit and everyone else safe.
There are several members of the Pack ranging from freshmen to seniors and each have an important job.
Senior and head programmer Alexander Lunsford has been a member of the Pack for three years and explained it’s his job to make sure Laika knows step-by-step what to do.
For Lunsford winning and being apart of a team are the best aspects of Robotics.
“There’s a lot of comradery and a lot of joking around (which) is pretty good,” Lunsford said. “I’ve made a lot of friends so that’s nice and I’ve proved my programming skills.”
Many members of the Pack feel they’ve made great friendships and for SHS senior and Team Captain Michael Bowden, it was his best friends that encouraged him to join two years ago.
“They had me join and I really enjoyed it so I stayed and they made me captain,” Bowden said. “As the captain I’m basically the runner of the team. I do most of the speaking and most of the coaching…”
He explained during the game he informs the drivers and other members how much time is left, where to go and when to go. He is also the one who talks to the judges as they evaluate the Laika.
For Bowden the best aspect of being a part of Robotics is learning new things.
“I’ve learned so much doing mechanical stuff and working with this robot that I don’t think I’ll ever learn doing anything else,” Bowden said.
Upon graduating, the captain said he wants to be an electrician for the University of Oklahoma and he wants the Pack to continue to thrive after he leaves.
“Hopefully in the future the team will grow as I hope it always does and we’ll see that’s a big factor,” Bowden said.