West Grand Robotics: More Than Just A Robot


by Jill Wilkinson

Both of West Grand High School’s two robotics teams qualified this year to compete at the state level. With 65 teams in Colorado, and only 28 going on to compete at the state level, it is quite an accomplishment to have two of these qualifying teams be from West Grand. As part of the STEM program students learn and apply engineering and design principles as they build a robot designed to compete in a “sport of the mind.”

Robotics team members before they headed to state competition. (L to R)Carlos Villegas, Badget Lengel, Thomas O’Neill, Jonathan Belcher, Rebecca Dillon, Garrett Miller, Kymberly Plagman, Aracelli Miranda, Jayden Edson and Gabe DeMattos. (Not pictured) Mahae Deisher and Andrew Wilkinson.

Students who participate in robotics take a year-long class taught by Mrs. Lori Birch, who serves as the team’s advisor. Each team is made up of six to eight members who each have a specific job. The main jobs are CAD specialist, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, programmer, project manager, and team leader. Since each robot is designed and then assembled from scratch, each person is very important to the outcome. Teams must also create an engineering notebook, which details the design process of their robot from start to finish.

Another important aspect of the robotics program is community involvement. This year, the robotics teams demonstrated their skills at two children’s fairs and at a teacher conference in Steamboat. To practice for competition and to thank sponsors, the teams also present to different companies including Mountain Parks Electric Company and Everist Materials. Students in robotics not only learn engineering, but also how to contribute to their communities and present their skills in a professional manner.

After a semester of hard work and problem-solving, the teams were ready to compete in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) tech challenge. FIRST teaches students the value of gracious professionalism, and high-quality work as well as introducing them to innovation and engineering.

Each year, FIRST, creates a game for teams to compete in. This year’s game was titled “First Res-Q”, and was designed to test the robot’s ability to move and place different objects, park on steep slopes, and hang from a bar. The arena was created to simulate mountainous terrain, with blocks and wiffle balls as debri to be moved into various goals. Points were calculated based on the number of debri placed into the goals. Also, the robot needed to “rescue” several plastic climbers from the tops of steep ramps. Finally, to score extra points, the robot needed to climb a steep ramp and hang from a bar. During competition, teams are randomly assigned an alliance and two opponents for the duration of each two minute thirty second game. The outcome of each game ranks teams. The top four teams then pick their alliance to compete in a tournament-style finals.

To qualify for state, a team must place in the top four at any one of the four qualifying meets held around Colorado. In competition, the team is judged on their performance in the game through five rounds, their technical judging presentation, and the quality and detail of their engineering notebook. During the technical judging presentation, the team presents their notebook and answer questions in front of a panel of judges. Winning teams perform high in each category.

West Grand’s team 8805 and team 7224 saw their dedication and hard-work pay off as they qualified to compete as the fourth ranked alliance at the state level. Team 7224 ranked fifth overall and had the opportunity to compete in the finals, but were unfortunately beat out by the top ranked alliance.

When asked what he was most proud of regarding robotics, Badget Lengel (team leader of 7224) answered, “We have reached the state level but everyone is still pushing for more.” Though the competition has ended for this year, students in robotics are already planning to and working towards qualifying next year to compete above the state level