VEX Robotics Team Qualifies for Regional Competition in Final Season Tournament

VEX Robotics was made an official sport during the 2019-2020 school year.

Among 50 other robotics teams, the Andover VEX Robotics team attended their final tournament as a school this year held at the University of New Haven last Saturday. Andover made it into the final round of competition for the first time this season, thus guaranteeing the team a spot in the VEX Southern New England Regionals, which will be held on March 14 and 15.

The Andover team brought three robots to the competition and each qualified for the playoffs and quarterfinals. Two of the three robots advanced to the semifinal round, each directed by a novice team, and the robot directed by the advanced team placed second, qualifying for the regional competition.

Robert Hickman, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, is the faculty advisor for the VEX team and is proud of the growth the students and team exemplify.

“I’m really proud of the students because throughout the whole year, for every tournament we’ve gone to, they’ve had a better result than the previous tournament. At our very first tournament in November, we took two robots, and neither one made it to the playoffs of the tournament. And I’m not even sure how many matches they won, but it wasn’t very many, if any at all. And now, this tournament, we had a robot that was 5-1 going into the playoffs, so it’s really exciting to see the progression of the team from the start to now,” said Hickman.

According to Hickman, four robots compete in each match of the competition, with two pairs of robots in alliances. This year, teams were tasked with designing robots that could complete two different tasks during the match, adding another layer of technical challenge.

“So the engineering challenge here is really that there’s two separate activities which aren’t very compatible to one another. One is stacking and the other one is lifting and placing. It sounds the same, but they’re quite different to do efficiently. And so one of the most significant engineering challenges here is how to design a robot that will do both well. So we decided to focus on making a robot that’s just a very, very good stacking robot. And then hopefully we’re paired with other team robots that are good with the tower component, that makes for a really good scoring alliance,” said Hickman.

CC Song ’21 originally joined the team because of her previous experience in robotics in middle school. As one of the Co-Presidents of the Andover VEX team, Song has been working on building the robot.

Song said, “Collaboration and being a leader have been really important for me this year, because I’m the Co-President of the club now and we’re getting a lot of new people in. So learning to teach new students and making sure that they stay interested, and they have the opportunities to learn that they need, that’s super important to me. And then collaboration, in terms of working in the [Nest] around other clubs and other people, and with the new sports offering, all of that has been a lot to work with.”

This year, robotics has been offered as a new sport option for Andover students. Anthony Kim ’21, the other Co-President of VEX, appreciates the newly freed time to develop robotics skills offered by the sport, and is excited for the future of the competition.

Kim said, “I think this year was a lot of figuring things out, because this was the first year doing the sports program, so I think next year, we should have it better structured. We will have to see what the new game is for next year, but I think we learned a lot throughout the course of this year by rebuilding our robots multiple times. And I think next year a lot of the returning members will be able to succeed.”

Emily Mae Murtha ’22 joined the robotics team due to the appeal of the sport option, despite not having any previous robotics experience. She enjoys both the community and technical aspects of the competition.

“I think that community, honestly, is a really big part of robotics, just because at competitions, especially overnight trips, we all have fun and I think coming every day to the [Nest] with this group people really makes you appreciate the bond, I guess. And then, other than that, I think it’s satisfying to make a robot from scratch and just see how it progresses and then your final result.”

Like Murtha, Irene Kwon ’21 joined the team when robotics became a sport option. Kwon appreciates the diverse community in robotics, but would like to see more gender diversity in competitions.

Kwon said, “For robotics itself, when I was at the last competition, I noticed that around ten percent of the participants were girls, up on the field. [There are] around 12 people actually on the field and maybe one or two of them would be girls. At this school, we already have a very good gender balance. But overall, I hope to see more of a balance or equality every time I go to competition. I want to see more girls participating.”

Hickman appreciates the current diversity on the team and hopes to continue increasing accessibility and growing the team dynamic. If the team places into a top spot at the upcoming regional competition, they will qualify for the world championship in April.

“Our plans are to compete in the Southern New England regional during spring break. And if the team qualifies for Worlds, we’ll be taking a robot to the world competition in April, so that’s still to be determined. I think the plan for next year is just to continue on this path of improving our access to all different students on campus, and make sure that many different students are considering this as an opportunity for them. We just want to grow the team dynamic more, in terms of having students collaborating and learning from one another,” said Hickman.