Brian Amdahl’s strategy Saturday at Casper College was to block the opponent and rely on others to score the easy points while he attempted harder ones.
Winning the match with 6 points, the Powell High School junior and his team were successful — all behind the remote control of a robot.
Students in teams of up to 10 had robots competing on diamond-shaped fields. Robots were to place plastic rings onto pegs in the center. Some rings were weighted. Each match started with 30 seconds of pre-programmed competition, followed by two-minutes of remote-controlled competition.
It was competition of intellectual not athletic prowess that drew teens from around Wyoming and as far away as Mexico City to the college. They arrived at the FIRST Tech Challenge with nearly 30 robots that, per competition rules, couldn’t be larger than 18 inches by 18 inches.
The competition is fun, but for robotics enthusiasts like Amdahl, who is considering the field as a profession, the real excitement is designing the robot.
“You can be creative through your design,” he said. “You can use your imagination.”
Students are dedicated, said Ronni Mull, math and science teacher at Midwest School, describing “hours put into engineering, appropriate gearing ratios.”
In addition to learning about the field of robotics, students learn teamwork, problem-solving and about the scientific process, Mull said.
For instance, Midwest students provided other teams with parts, tools and advice on how to fix malfunctions in their robots. In science, researchers share data and technology with each other all the time, Mull said.
“Science never advances without the help of each other,” she said.
Robotics have plenty of practical, real-world applications: They are used on assembly lines, to detonate bombs, as rovers on Mars and as drones in the military, said Jim Nations, a Casper resident who volunteered at the event and has worked at NASA.
Engineers dream of one day having “nano bots,” molecular robots that would enter the body and deliver drugs or fight cancer. Robots don’t get tired and can go where people sometimes cannot, Nations said.
The three students from Mexico City’s Centro Escolar Cedros got to travel to Wyoming for the weekend because of their high academic records, said Manuel Carbajal, their coach.
“In Mexico, we don’t have many tournaments,” he said. “When they practice in tournaments, they get to be better.”
Carbajal is a 21-year-old engineering, innovation and design student at Panamerican University in Mexico City. When he was a teen at Centro Escolar Cedros, he was a member of one of Mexico’s first high school robotics teams. It inspired him to pursue math and science further.
“The goal of this is to get kids to be engineers,” he said.