Steam Power Theme Revealed In Robotics Competition

By Lauren Caruba
San Antonio Express-News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This article follows the exciting first steps for the robotics team at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. The all-girls school will compete alongside 85,000 students in the FIRST Robotics international competition.

San Antonio Express-News

Standing before a large whiteboard, Alexus Arizola sketched a rendering of the competition arena and a list of rules with a red dry-erase marker.

After rewatching a video detailing the complex robot she and her classmates would build and refine over the next few months, Arizola took charge, brandishing a handful of pages from a design manual.

Earlier on Saturday morning, the junior at Young Women’s Leadership Academy and her classmates gathered with around 400 students and mentors from 22 other schools at Villita Assembly Building, where a live stream revealed the theme and challenge for the 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition.

It will be the second time that the all-girls school will compete alongside 85,000 students in the international robotics competition, For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology.

This year’s theme, FIRST Steamworks, sets the competition in the steam power era and challenges students to equip an airship for takeoff. The goal is to build a robotic device that can leverage hollow plastic balls — representing fuel — into a boiler and install gears on a rotor. The robots will be programmed to operate on their own for 15 seconds, after which students will control them remotely.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge,” said Arizola, 16. “Last year was difficult because we were a rookie team with no experience.”

In Texas, the competition is as tough as ever, with the number of regional events in the state expanded from four to six.

This year, Waco will host a regional and Houston will host two, alongside San Antonio, Dallas and Lubbock.

The UIL State Championship will be held in late May in Austin, and in late April Houston will host one of two world championships.

At the San Antonio kickoff, City Councilman Ron Nirenberg told students about the increasing importance of STEM fields to the city, including the biosciences, which he said account for more than $30 billion in the local economy.

“We’re really, really excited to see what you all build today and through the next six months of the competition,” Nirenberg said. “San Antonio is growing in STEM career fields, and we are really, really wanting to see this program take off.”

After viewing the competition’s introductory video, 23 teams from five cities in the Alamo Region dispersed across the assembly building to gather kits of building materials. Groups of students, some wearing matching shirts, milled about.

Visiting six stations, students and team mentors loaded 70 pounds worth of aluminum, batteries, power cables and other materials onto dollies.

Amanda Martinez, a sophomore at Carrizo Springs High School, said she was excited about the theme of this year’s competition.

The school, located in a small town more than 100 miles southwest of San Antonio, is participating for the first time this year.

“I like it. It’s not really modern, but it gives us something to learn about,” Martinez said.

Afterward, many students headed back to their schools to get to work.

Back at Young Women’s Leadership Academy, bags and boxes of unassembled parts soon spread across folding tables, along with stacks of pages from a 126-page manual.

For the next few weeks, the girls will spend endless hours in the converted storage room, including on Saturdays, as they strive to make it further in the competition than last year, when they made quarterfinals.

“I’m looking forward to see how we’ve progressed,” Arizola said.

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