Small team of all-homeschooled students wins big at robotics fete in Delaware

February 28, 2012

Story Highlights

  • The FIRST Tech Challenge Team 7 competed at the Diamond State FTC Championship Tournament.
  • Dr. Christopher Hoppel, chief of the ARL Soldier Protection Sciences Branch, mentors the team with CACI's George Shulgach and Verizon Wireless' Joyce Orwig.

Swapping notes in study hall and hanging with the same friends at the lunch table are missed on a small group of area students whose hook ups after school - and on Saturday mornings - landed them first place in a major robotics competition in Delaware over the weekend, and a coveted spot at a robotics world championship competition in St. Louis, Mo., in April.

The FIRST Tech Challenge Team 7, all home-schooled high school level students from Harford and Cecil counties, competed against 31 other teams at the Diamond State FTC Championship Tournament Jan. 28, at the Bob Carpenter Sports and Convention Center at the University of Delaware.

The teams were required to build a robot to compete in the "Bowled Over" Challenge, where robots scored points by moving bowling balls, collecting and storing racquet balls, and stacking crates to win matches. The robots were built from a limited set of materials and had to be smaller than an 18-inch cube at the beginning of their matchs (although many of the robots expanded to over 10-feet high during the match).

Each match was two and a half minutes long, said Dr. Christopher Hoppel, chief of the Army Research Laboratory's Soldier Protection Sciences Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground, who mentors the team with CACI's George Shulgach and Verizon Wireless' Joyce Orwig.

"The first 30 seconds was autonomous mode; the robot performed pre-programmed actions such as moving a bowling ball to a location on the field following an IR beacon. Then the robots competed in a two-minute period where they were controlled by two student drivers. The students worked closely with an alliance partner to out-score another alliance of two teams," Hoppel said.

This team served as captain of an alliance with two other teams, The Landroids from Livingston, N.J., and the Charter Impulse from the Charter School of Wilmington, Del., to jointly win a series of best of three competitions against other alliances. This earned Team 7 an invitation to compete in the FTC World Championship event in St. Louis, which will be held April 25-18.

FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. Based in Manchester, N.H., the 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

"The team started the current challenge in September," said Hoppel, "The team is very mature, and handled themselves with tremendous composure during a long day of competitions."

Longtime youth advocate, mentor and team coach, Hoppel said the students' competition readiness began at 5 a.m. Saturday, and ended after the last match, which was at 6 p.m. During the long day, the students competed in multiple matches, and met with tournament judges, interested spectators and other teams.

"At 6:30 p.m. when they received their championship medals they were physically and emotionally exhausted," Hoppel recalled about the team.

"During the day, they had a reliable robot which helped them win four out of five matches during the morning," Hoppel said. "However, their strength of the team was really in scouting selecting strong alliance partners for the finals in the afternoon."

Earlier in the 2011-2012 competition year, the team competed in two qualifier events in Maryland, a smaller competition that made them eligible to compete in the Maryland State Championship that will be held Feb. 25 at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. In early January, FTC Team 7 competed at the Naval Academy Qualifier and won the Think Award. A week later, they competed at the Harford County Qualifier and won the top two awards: The Inspire Award, and the Captain of the Winning Alliance.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, which is the Army's corporate laboratory delivering the scientific discoveries, technological advances, and the analyses that provide warfighters with the capabilities with which to execute full-spectrum operations, co-sponsored the Harford County Qualifier providing the field for the competition, and hosted the planning meeting at the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen. The other sponsor is the National Defense Educational Program, which supports the future workforce needs of the Department of Defense.


Last Update / Reviewed: February 28, 2012