Two Loudoun County robotics teams have earned invites to the VEX World Championships, a first for any local team. But they are in desperate need of money to afford to compete in the competition.
Team Bender from Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn won first place in the 2016 Virginia State VEX Robotics Championships last month, and team RoboRays 1 from Stone Hill Middle School in Brambleton took second. They earned spots at the world contest April 20 in Louisville, KN.
The teams have worked since the start of the school year on their extravagant robots, designing, building and programming them to perform this year’s VEX challenge. The challenge, dubbed “Nothing But Net,” requires the ’bots to gather as many 4-inch foam balls from around the competition field as possible and then launch them into either goals on the opposite side of the field for points.
During a recent robotics club meeting at Stone Bridge High School, members of Team Bender—named after the school’s most winning robot—demonstrated the machine’s consistency and accuracy as it tossed the foam balls as if it were shooting free throws on a basketball court.
Nate Wooley, who helped start the VEX Robotics team three years ago, said it’s unprecedented for a team this young to make it to the top level of the competition.
“To go to worlds in the third year, it’s almost unheard of,” he said.
And they’ve done it without much financial support, he noted. A few of the team members’ parents’ employers, including ScienceLogic and Geeks On Call, have given supplies or financial donations. But the team has still had to get creative to afford parts for its robots and contest entry fees, which can be as much as $800. The students said they try to repurpose and reuse supplies for the robots each year.
“We get about one-tenth of what other robotics teams get, just because they’re more established,” Nate said.
“We’re still so fresh to the game,” his teammate Vikram Seshadri added.
Stone Bridge students who were integral to Team Bender’s success include Nate, Vikram, Saarthak Maheshwari, Rishi Alla and Ben Wooley.
Stone Hill students who make up RoboRays 1 include Christopher Jay Avery Jr., Anish Kadali, Josh Miner, Surya Punjabi, Siddharth Rapolu and Taha Abu-Saymeh.
A Loudoun County team, made up of students from Academy of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology School, made it to the FIRST Robotics World Championship last year. But this is the first time a Loudoun team has competed on the world stage through the VEX league. While VEX Robotics and FIRST Robotics have similar elements, and require students to build, design and program robots to compete in designated challenges, VEX’s season is longer with more competitions.