This was the first word that came to president of the MVHS Robotics team and senior Akhil Palla’s mind as cheers erupted around him when his team won second place in their division of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition. Tears of joy fell from his eyes as he looked at what his team had accomplished. Palla led the rest of the MV Robotics team to Houston, Texas for the world championships from April 17-22 after winning the Northern Arizona regional event that took place March 8 – 11.
The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges high school robotics teams from around the world to engineer robots that can compete in difficult field games. The teams are under strict rules, with a limited budget and a six-week time limit. The competition ends with the annual FRC Championships — the very same championship that Palla can only describe as surreal.
The team attends multiple regionals every year in the hopes of qualifying for the championships. This year, they attended the Northern Arizona regional in Flagstaff, Ariz. and the Silicon Valley regional in San Jose, Calif. The regionals are structured as matches in which the robots must compete for ranking points. For the first 15 seconds of the match, the robots are controlled completely by pre-written program. The drivers only take control in the second part of the match. These games are played in teams of three that are grouped into random alliances. At the end of the day, the top eight teams are allowed to choose two other teams to be in their alliance. MVHS was the first pick of the winning alliance, which qualified them for the Championships. The team made it to the quarterfinals in Houston and won the semifinals, but lost in the finals, placing them second in their division of the competition.
Ted Shinta, who was the advisor of the Robotics club from 2000 to 2012 and returned as the advisor this year, called it the most successful year in MVRT’s history. Palla also emphasized this fact, pointing out that this team has never placed as high in previous years.
“Our last regional win itself was back in 2008 or 2012, and that was not as first pick,” Palla said. “This year we seeded really high.”
Junior Arnav Gupta, who attended the competition with the rest of the team, agrees with this statement. He thinks that they were really close to ultimate victory.
“We made it to the elimination rounds, we had a pretty good alliance, but unfortunately, we lost in the division finals,” Gupta said. “We were a couple of wins [away].”
Shinta credits the club’s achievement to the team’s ability to work together well and their willingness to agree among themselves. He feels this is also what distinguished them from the previous years.
“[Last year’s team] couldn’t agree on anything,” Shinta said. “A lot of last years’ members ended up leaving and forming their own teams outside of school. When I came in this year, I didn’t really expect to place very high. I thought this year would be focused on rebuilding the team.”
Shinta thinks that this year’s achievement surpassed previous years. Palla agrees that the teamwork is what made them successful this year.
“It’s been one of our really big moves this year, which is trying to make sure the whole team comes together,” Palla said. “I’d say we’re a really close group of friends now, and that definitely helped us work better together this year.”
The last few days that the team had to build their robot usually coincides with spring break in February. On those days, Palla recalls that the the team sometimes spent as much as 12 hours working on the robot. And even though some of their workdays may have been less productive than others, none of the time was wasted since every hour together helped them bond as a team.
“Half the time we’re fooling around or whatever,” Palla said. “You go out onto the field and play Ultimate Frisbee and stuff like that. But that’s really what brings the team closer together.”
Their exact international ranking is hard to tell, since the different divisions have to be taken into account, but Gupta is proud of the team’s performance as a whole.
“We actually did really, really well for who we are,” Gupta said. “This is the best we’ve done in over a decade.”