Aspen High School sends two robotics teams to Colorado state championships
February 8, 2019
There aren't many outlets for students who can build and program like Aspen High School sophomore Alex Appleby. Which is exactly why he and a few dozen others are so committed to the AHS robotics program.
"We are pretty dedicated to this. We show up five days a week. Everyone shows up pretty much every day," Appleby said. "What's awesome for me is just experience. I've been programming long before I started FTC. It's great to have an application for that. There are not a lot of opportunities for me to actually program, and this allows me to do that."
FTC, or FIRST Tech Challenge, is the overriding body under which the AHS robotics team competes. After making it through recent qualifiers, the Skiers have two teams competing Saturday at the FIRST Tech Challenge state championships, held at Regis University's northwest Denver campus.
One team, Robo Yetis team 5196, has been AHS's primary robotics team for the better part of a decade. But this year, a group of underclassmen that includes Appleby came together to create AHS Backcountry Robotics team 15136, with both teams competing this weekend in Denver.
Caroline Hanson is the primary mentor and coach for the FTC teams, which came together for a short presentation and demonstration Wednesday at Aspen Middle School.
"We felt there were way too many people on a single team for us to really get anything done," Appleby said about creating the new team. "We are passionate about the program, but none of us really got to do a lot. So we wanted to make it smaller."
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FTC is the graduated version of the FIRST Lego League (FLL), with FIRST meaning "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." Instead of the Lego robots created in middle school, the high school FTC teams have a lot more they can do.
"This is FLL on steroids. I think what's cool about this is suddenly you are allowed to use all these materials that you are never allowed to use before," said AHS senior Clare Mitchell, who is co-captain of the Robo Yetis. "You are using metal parts, which are more customizable. You are using motors. And you are kind of allowed to be creative about the materials you are using, which is really fun for building."
Each year FTC has a different theme, with last year's being archeology based. This year's theme is "Rover Ruckus" — the FLL's theme this year is "Into Orbit" — giving the competitions a space-themed approach. Simply put, the students have created a mini "Mars Rover" which they operate remotely in competitions and are required to transport "minerals" — orange blocks and white Wiffle balls — into the "lander" or designated scoring area.
"You are trying to score as many points as possible and you get points for all these different tasks," Mitchell said of the competitions, which she said is only one aspect of being in AHS robotics. "There is the robot game, which you can see very clearly, and then there is this intangible side to it. You have to document everything you've done in incredible detail. You are also doing community outreach. A lot of the outreach we try to do is STEM-centric. So we are working with kids, teaching kids about robotics."
The AHS robotics teams competing this weekend are vying for a spot in the world championships, which will be hosted by Houston in April.
"It's a competition for building stuff," Appleby said of why they do this. "They get to show off their skills. In terms of colleges, college stuff and career stuff, obviously this is great to have this hands-on experience."