Students Bring Robotic Designs to Life at Island University 'First Tech Challenge, Rover Ruckus'

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – After months of hard-work and dedication, 26 Coastal Bend area teams went head-to-head during the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge (FTC) Gulf Coast League Championship, hosted by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on Saturday, Jan. 26. The teams competed for a place in the FTC Alamo Regional/State Championship in New Braunfels.

“This is the seventh year we’ve hosted this event, and each year it grows bigger,” said Mayra Alvarado, program coordinator in the College of Science of Engineering. “This is an opportunity for our university to showcase what we have to offer and inspire prospective students to pursue their passions.”

More than 200 students from grades 7-12 built, programmed, and operated robots of their design. Guided by coaches and mentors, they developed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills and practiced engineering principles, while realizing the value of diligence, innovation, and teamwork.

“Every kid should get a chance to take part in this competition,” said Randall Stuart, Islander alum `03 and mentor and coach of Moody High School’s FTC teams. “There’s something here for everybody. It’s an opportunity for students to learn what we call gracious professionalism, teamwork, and perseverance – getting knocked down, and then coming back to the next match to hopefully win.” 

Every year, the competition has a different challenge. This year’s theme, Rover Ruckus, was a space mining simulation that imitated a potential real-world situation in robotic planetary exploration. Matches had two distinct periods of play: a 30-second autonomous period, where the robot operated using pre-programmed instructions and sensor inputs, followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period, where the robots were directed with a remote similar to a video game controller.

Onlookers watched with anticipation as the student-designed robots descended from the lander, located in the field’s center, to compete to score the most points by collecting and sorting minerals from the craters, located in opposite corners of the field. The scoring elements consisted of 60 silver minerals and 90 gold minerals, which were represented by white spheres and yellow cubes.

“It’s a childhood dream to be able to build a robot and get it moving,” shared Alden Sparrow, a sophomore from Calallen High School. “Seeing my team’s robot go against other teams’ robots was nerve wracking, but as a team we built a kinship and support for each other.”

The teams were not only judged by their robot’s performance, but also by how detailed they kept their engineering notebook, their performance during faculty interviews, and their displays in the pit, where students shared information on their projects at booths during the competition. One team spent 246 hours working on their robot. Teams also performed outreach events in their communities to engage younger students.

“My team did eight outreaches and averaged about 250 people altogether,” said Brianna Guevara, a senior at Moody High School and a third-year FTC veteran. “We take our robot and our engineering notebooks to demonstrate what STEM is to younger students who may not know what it is and wonder if they can do it, too.”  

The advancing teams include:

FTC Alamo Regional/State Championship

  • Team 10862 – Droid Rage 2 from Collegiate High School (CCISD)
  • Team 13266 – Droid Rage 5 from Collegiate High School (CCISD)
  • Team 9923 – Triple AAA from Moody High School (CCISD)
  • Team 13744 – Enginerds from Calallen High School (CISD)
  • Team 15930 – Pirates from Rockport-Fulton High School (ACISD)

FTC Wild Card Competition

  • Team 6901 – Droid Rage 1 from Collegiate High School (CCISD)
  • Team 12302 – Synergy from Gregory-Portland High School (G-PISD)
  • Team 4902 – Novabots from Moody High School (CCISD)
  • Team 15654 – Ladybugs from Calallen High School (CISD)
  • Team 12285 – Droid Rage 4 from Collegiate High School (CCISD)

“You can tell that these kids are passionate, and at the end of the day this is something they want to pursue in their future,” shared Kayla Ramirez, an Islander student volunteer and a freshman majoring in psychology. “It just amazes me how smart they are. I hope they recognize their talents as young people and go forward to make their best life.”