Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

Jordan, Waterford robotics teams advance to world championships

Apr 26, 2017 09:20AM ● By Julie Slama

Jordan High School’s robotics team won the overall championship of this year’s FIRST Utah regional robotics competition and was expected to participate in the world championships in April. (Jordan High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Robots that were built by about 50 high school teams were steaming during this year’s FIRST Utah regional robotics competition, where Jordan High’s rookie team emerged victorious.
“This just exceeded our expectations by millions,” said Jordan teacher Cameo Lutz, who along with John Chinchen, advises the Jordan robotics team. “We were just happy when we got our robot finished and working.”
This year’s FIRST “Steamworks” competition inspired students to build robots that must lob “fuel cells” (in the form of balls) into a mock steam boiler to build enough fuel to operate a simulated steam-powered airship. Meanwhile, the robots also transported giant gears to the airship to engage the ship’s propellers. Teams score points for each action. At the end, the teams’ robots needed to climb aboard their hovering airship to complete the round.
The contest comes at the end of a six-week period in which student teams design, build, program and test the robots.
At the end of the early round, the top eight teams formed alliances with other teams. Alta High was sixth place so the team formed its own alliance.  Jordan High was selected by the third-place team out of Las Vegas to join in their alliance.
“When we got there, our climbing mechanism wasn’t working so we asked for help and that’s how we got to know them,” Lutz said. “By competition time, they helped us with a new climbing mechanism that fit perfectly.”
Lutz said cooperation amongst teams was a great part of Jordan’s success.
“Hillcrest High (in Midvale) helped us with parts and getting started and Alta helped with programming. Waterford had a facility they arranged for us to practice at times that worked for us. They all helped with our business plan, but it was also the hard work of our students that should be commended,” she said.
Team president and junior Nicole Brooks has experience with robots.  Last year, when Jordan didn’t have its own team, she participated with Hillcrest.  Before that, she was part of FIRST Lego League’s Jedi team that won the state title and participated at the national level.
“We had a solid foundation and knew what needed to be done,” Nicole said. “Our school wasn’t equipped with what all we needed.”
For example, their robot was one of the few made out of wood as the students didn’t have access to machinery to cut metal, Lutz said.
“We called it the Ghetto Bot and it probably looked more like a Pinewood Derby car, but I didn’t want them to always rely on others for help.  I wanted to see what they could do on their own,” she said.
The students worked afterschool for four hours per day, four days per week during the six weeks before the competition.
“We were in 35th place after the early rounds and were pretty excited to move into 22nd place as a rookie team on Saturday,” Nicole said about the second day of competition, March 11. “We are a pretty strong defensive team, so we were confident we’d be picked to be part of an alliance, but when our number was called, I was just still.  I was so shocked, I had forgot our team number.”
During the competition, they faced Alta in the quarterfinals and Hillcrest in the semifinals.
“It was kind of sad playing against these teams that supported us, but they were so happy cheering alongside us. We wanted each other to win as much as we wanted to win ourselves,” she said.
When they won the overall championship, Lutz said it was disbelief.
“We were so excited and shocked to win. We never thought we’d win it all. We were hoping to win the outstanding rookie award,” she said, adding that the team also received that title as well.
With the overall title, Jordan will travel to Houston April 19-22 to participate in the world championships against 400 teams.
During the competition, Alta’s team was plagued with robot problems, said Alta senior Mykell Johnson.
“Our robot choked in the lift system and our launcher was ineffective in the game,” she said. 
Still, the team earned the Quality Award for its simple, clean effective design.
“We made everything and didn’t rely on a kit.  It’s the best robot we’ve built,” said the senior who has been a member of the team for three years and wants to become a mechanical engineer.
“I’ve learned a lot about engineering and programming from our mentors and teacher.  I can design and build.  I have drafting skills. I can use equipment to create shafts to go on a robot. I’ve learned leadership and responsibility,” she said.
Alta’s team didn’t call it quits. Learning a different kind of gear would make their robot more effective, they returned to their school to upgrade their robot and take it to the regional competition in Idaho in early April.
Waterford, who also participated in Utah’s regional, traveled to Idaho to compete. There, its 10-member team was invited to participate at the world championships.
“We made adjustments in our strategy and our mechanical system and had big improvements in our level of play from the Utah event,” said Waterford science teacher and lead robotics mentor James Harris. “However, of equal importance is the work our team does to better our community of teams in Utah.”
Besides Jordan, Waterford has helped Alta, AISU, Judge Memorial, Roots and Navajo Mountain high schools. At the Utah regional competition, Waterford was awarded the Gracious Professionalism award for their work in supporting other local teams.
“There’s a need for lots of capable problem solvers, so through cooperation, we are training our engineers, programmers, scientists and others for our future,” he said. “The competition celebrates all of us learning and getting better.”