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GCTC's Atomic Gears to compete at state robotics championship

Elisabeth Slay
The Atomic Gears competing at Locust Grove in December, where they qualified for the state championship.

The Gordon Cooper Technology Center (GCTC) robotics team Atomic Gears will compete in the 11th annual FIRST Tech Challenge (FTR) Robotics statewide championship with their robot, Wraith Saturday, Feb. 22, at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) in Weatherford from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

According to advisor and instructor Sue Ellen Frerichs, the team began working on their robot last semester.

"In this robot competition the students build an 18 inches by 18 inches by 18 inches so it's a cube (robot). Our game, which is SKYTONE was released in September. So then the students started coming up with what their strategy was and how they wanted to build their robot," Frerichs said.

The educator said the Atomic Gears decided to build their own robot rather than use the option of a kit robot and several students custom built the machine with materials and tools from GCTC.

"They just take what they've learned through robotics and through our engineering classes and design the robot from the ground up so they have 3D printed or manufactured everything that's on the robot," Frerichs said.

According to Engineering Manager Elizabeth White, when brainstorming the design of their robot, the team thought about the best way to make it move quickly.

"Our main goal strategy-wise was speed, so we actually used carbon fiber as opposed to aluminum which most teams use because it's a lot lighter and it allows us to go faster," White said.

There are 13 members on the team, White said, and about eight of the students worked on designing and constructing the robot.

Frerichs said in addition to building the robot, the teams also have to document their progress and reach out to the community to promote STEM.

According to Business Manager Jorge Tapia, he and a few other team members worked on these and other aspects.

"We worked on everything that's not the robot. We (record) the process of the robot from brainstorming to where we are now of actually competing," Tapia said. "We do outreach, which is basically going out into the the community and promoting STEAM and FIRSTs. We do sponsorships and contact local businesses. There's loads of things that we do."

Tapia explained one of the major outreach projects the Atomic Gears has worked on is the opportunity for Oklahomans to show their support for FIRST Robotics though new license plates.

"We're actually the first state to get this passed. We have up to May to get 100 pre-approved sales to actually get this license plate manufactured," Tapia said.

Frerichs said the team worked really hard to get this legislation passed and a portion of the proceeds from each license plate sold will go toward FIRST Robotics.

The Atomic Gears, Frerichs said competed with their robot in the Arkansas state championship and took third place and they qualified for the Oklahoma state championship at a competition in Locust Grove in December.

White said the Atomic Gears will compete in six timed qualifying events before eight teams are selected to compete in the finals tournament.

"So with this robot our main goal is to stack these stones. So basically the highest stack wins the game," White said. "We have what's called an 'Autonomous Period' at the beginning of the match. It's where the robot doesn't move with the driver, it moves (by) pre-programmed code."

Per robot, White said there are two people operating the machine and one person coaching the drivers as they compete.

Frerichs said during each round there are actually four separate teams competing, but they work together.

"During a game two teams work together and form an alliance and you have a red alliance and a blue alliance," Frerichs said. "So there are two teams playing head-to-head."

White explained if the Atomic Gears win most of their matches they rise in rank. The top four teams then get to choose who they'll align with when they compete in the semifinals and finals.

Should they win the finals, Tapia said then the Atomic Gears would go on to Worlds.

"Worlds is held in two places – one in Detroit and one in Houston. For our area we would be sent to Houston if we won," Tapia said. "At Oklahoma they have three slots that send teams to Worlds."

The three slots, Tapia explained, include the Inspire award, the Alliance Captain award and the Second Inspire award.

"The Inspire award is a way of recognizing those teams that are balanced and excel in both areas. Not just the robot. Not just the business. They're the total package," Tapia said.

Both Tapia and White said they have enjoyed this program and appreciate the opportunities it's brought them.

Tapia is a senior at Prague High School and he said because of FIRST he will be attending Oklahoma State University for chemical engineering.

"FIRST is life-changing. I've only been in it for three years, but I've seen a big improvement from when I came in to where I'm at now," Tapia said. "FIRST has taught me that I really love engineering and the STEM side of things."

White, who is a sophomore and homeschooled, said she has been a part of FIRST for nearly a decade as her older brother participated in it.

"FIRST means a lot to me. It's been a big part of my life ever since I was a child. It's helped me learn to network with people," White said. "I've met actual engineers that are in the field I want to go into. I want to be a software engineer."

In addition to competing with Atomic Gears, White said she is in the running to be one of two people selected as a Dean's List recipient and will be interviewing for the award at the championship.

Overall, the Atomic Gears will compete with more than 40 schools at this competition, but regardless of how they place Frerichs, White and Tapia said they've enjoyed the process and look forward to the future.

Check back for results and updates.