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Skyview StormBots taking robot ‘Connie’ to Houston for high school championship

Each January, high school robotics teams are presented with a challenge and given six weeks to design and build a robot to accomplish it

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 15, 2024, 6:05am
6 Photos
Members of the Skyview StormBots, the high school&rsquo;s robotics team, take part in a robotics competition in Portland in early April. The team is preparing to compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship in Houson.
Members of the Skyview StormBots, the high school’s robotics team, take part in a robotics competition in Portland in early April. The team is preparing to compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship in Houson. (Photo contributed by Adele Meyer) Photo Gallery

The days before a world championship are tense.

Those feelings aren’t lost on Michael Wilde, a senior on Skyview High School’s robotics team, the StormBots. Not only is it his last year with the team, but it’s the first time in six years Skyview will compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship in Houston.

“I feel like this is my last chance to give all my knowledge to the team. I gave it my all,” Wilde said. “Our last group of seniors never got a chance to go (to the world championship). This is the best way to go out.”

While Wilde and his fellow teammates might have a good grasp on what their robot, named Connie, needs to do to secure further success, it’s not remotely simple.

Each year, high school robotics teams from across the nation and beyond are presented with a game-like challenge and given six weeks to design and build a robot that can effectively accomplish the challenge.

In January, the StormBots received details of the challenge: a team game that requires robots to pick up a series of orange foam rings, climb an apparatus and insert the rings into a counting mechanism, much like dunking a basketball.

“It’s confusing if you’ve never seen it before,” junior Adele Meyer said, laughing.

Essentially, imagine a Roomba zooming around a cluttered living room floor and sucking up the foam rings one at a time, like giant Cheerios. That’s what the StormBots came up with.

Connie got the team through previous rounds before the world championship, competing with and against local schools along the way.

There isn’t one way to win, Wilde said. The best robots have to be able to do as much as possible: collect rings, dispense them and even block other teams from getting them.

“There were arguments about defense and offense,” Wilde said. “But this year, we decided we wanted our core robot to meet as many requirements as possible.”

‘More than BattleBots’

Two of the team’s leaders, Meyer and junior Samantha Phan, aren’t deeply tied to the construction and design of the robot itself, like Wilde is. The duo focuses on the business and marketing side of the StormBots. That means collecting sponsors, finding ways the team can make a difference in the community and recruiting new members.

“As someone who was never interested in touching the robot, I’m so invested,” Phan said. “We’re doing a lot more than just building robots.”

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The StormBots run camps and workshops for elementary and middle school students at the nearby Three Creeks Community Library. The team has adopted the Chinook Neighborhood Park and helped build pneumatic equipment to aid students in Top Soccer — a sports program for children with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The team’s work earned the StormBots this year’s Impact award, which goes to teams that have used their influence and intellect in robotics to make a difference in their local communities.

“I feel like winning the Impact award alone solidified us this year,” Phan said.

The community work also gives the team a better chance of succeeding at the world championship. Judges, team members said, don’t place value just on individual robot performance, but also on how the team members work with each other and other teams and operate outside the competition.

The team’s game plan this year focused on cooperation and constant improvement, the students said. In competitions, the StormBots work as an “alliance captain,” meaning they work to identify the strengths of other teams to best work together as a larger unit.

“A big thing that stands out about us — not only did we enter the competition as a strong robot that can do everything, but each week and each competition we improved,” Wilde said. “You have to keep working to improve, even after you win.”

Final touches

On Thursday evening, with less than a week until the championship, a “skeleton crew” of StormBots team members worked on making buttons for the team to wear and perfecting their game plan.

Wilde said the last aspect the team is concerned about is its performance in the “autonomous” section of the competition. For 15 seconds, teams are given the chance to have their robots operate completely on their own, sucking up the foam rings and progressing without any manual control.

In that section, due to its extreme difficulty, more points are at stake. Wilde worked with a few students to tweak their practice robot to better detect the rings with sensors and cameras. In the blink of an eye, the robot — which is about the size of a large lawnmower — would jerk in the direction of the orange ring. The speed with which the device moves is unbelievable.

“It’s amazing to have high school students that can create a robot in their minds and go through the process of putting it together in the field,” said Jeff Ahner, a teacher and StormBots adviser. “The seniors have learned their way through it. That’s what’s fun about being a coach — seeing how they work from freshman year on.”

Meyer said the prospect of the world championship is daunting.

“It’s mind-blowing. There’s going to be 600 teams there,” she said. “There used to be these teams we’d look at amazed, wondering how they could do what they did. Now, we’re one of those teams.”

She and other teammates are hopeful their success can be an inspiration to students from varying backgrounds who might be curious about robotics — whether as an engineer, designer or marketing leader.

“We compare ourselves to sports, where only the top athletes will get scholarships or play professionally — but a majority of us will go on to school or to be engineers,” Meyer said. “Everyone will go pro. That’s what we like to say.”