Mexico robotics champs advance to worldwide competition

Robotics team members Evan Blunt (left) and Stephen “Stavie” Ruffalo (right) make adjustments to their robot’s puncher mechanism, a feature they said garnered success at the statewide VEX Robotics Competition. 

MEXICO — The Mexico High School robotics team will face off against students from across the world next week at the world’s largest robotics competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

After forming earlier this school year, the Tigers’ robotics team made history when it was selected to move on to the international VEX Robotics Competition after winning the statewide competition. Teams will be randomly paired with seven others throughout the two and a half day event and compete against each other in challenges using their robots. 

Team members will potentially have to use language-translating software to collaborate with peers on strategy, said Galen Fellows, club advisor and mentor to the team.

“They’re in charge of going to the other teams and saying ‘this is what our bot can do’ and ‘which autonomous spot do you want to start in,’” said Fellows. “They’ll have to communicate using Google translate.”

Fellows said teams are informed ahead of time about what challenges they’ll have to complete, as well as parameters for their building and programming their robots.

“Right at the beginning they say each element is worth a certain number of points, you can start at X size and you can use a certain number of motors,” he said. “There’s an equal playing field to start with, and from there it’s just build and customize.”

This year’s task requires participants to launch balls at differently colored flags that correspond to point values.

The first round is the 15-second autonomous portion of the competition, in which robots must perform the task without human influence. Fellows said teams are responsible to write lengthy, complicated code that precisely programs every movement the robot makes. 

“They have to write every single line of code for the robot to move forward a certain amount of distance,” he said. “They had to rewrite some of the code and tell it not to just move forward a certain distance but to oscillate at a certain distance.”

After round one, the next round is “driver versus driver,” in which teams directly operate the robot with a remote control 

Junior Aidan Sherman, one of the lead coders on the team, said the statewide competition allowed them to collaborate with other team members to sharpen their robot’s operations and contribute their own successes.   

“Originally it was supposed to have a catapult system and omni wheels instead, but after states we went through a couple drawbacks,” he said. “We took it apart, put on different wheels and went to a new system and recently we changed up how we angle the puncher and it ends up working a lot better now.”

According to Fellows, the competition will be live streamed on the Mexico Academy and Central School District webpage. 

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