Education

Olympia robotics team headed to world championship

Sixteen-year-old Jacob Lyon used information he learned in a recent physics class to help the Olympia Robotics Federation build its competition robot.

“We went through some formulas, and I calculated all of the weights and forces,” the Avanti High School junior said.

With those numbers, the team was able to determine the size of a piston they needed for the machine, Lyon said.

For the second time in three years, the Olympia Robotics Federation — which comprises about 25 students from Avanti, Olympia and Capital high schools — is headed to the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championships in St. Louis. FIRST is a New Hampshire-based nonprofit; it stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” The world competition runs April 22-25.

Students spent six weeks building their robot from scratch. Then, they took it on the road and participated in several tournaments. They qualified for the world championships after placing 13th individually and third in the alliance (where they paired with another team) at a regional competition in Cheney a few weeks ago, according to Peter Cook, one of the team’s mentors.

“What I find interesting is the amount of different things that a robot is actually capable of,” said 17-year-old Jonah Morris, a sophomore at Capital High School.

Teams receive points when their robots complete certain tasks, such as stacking plastic bins or putting items in a trash can.

“I would say we’re known for our reliability,” Lyon said. “We’re not the highest scoring robot out there. But we can score the same amount every time.”

About seven years ago, the Olympia School District became one of the first school districts in the country to offer robotics programs. Over the years, it’s added robotics classes and clubs at its middle and high schools, as part of a push for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education.

“Our motto with STEM robotics is to help our students grow from being consumers of technology into being creators of technology,” said Randy Steele, the career and technical education STEM coach for the district.

Younger students build robots that can be programmed to move with light and sound sensors; older students build robots that use more sophisticated software and hardware.

Three years ago, the Olympia Robotics Federation was formed so students would have the opportunity to build and compete with the largest class of robots, which are used in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

“They’re the size of a small refrigerator and they weigh 130 pounds without the batteries,” Steele said.

Lyon said robotics competitions are filled with a lot of energy. He’s looking forward to the world competition.

“You walk into this stadium with all the people cheering and in their team’s colors, and it blows a lot of people away,” Lyon said.

Olympia Robotics Federation is trying to raise about $20,000 to help pay for the trip, Cook said. For more information on how to donate, go to stempals.org.

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