Robotics team racks up wins at Worlds

Team VERTEX shines at the FIRST Tech Challenge competition in Houston.

May 8, 2023

Exeter’s Robotics Club took the Worlds by storm, compiling a list of accolades during the competition in Houston in late April.

Team VERTEX, the club’s top team, allied with teams from Longmont, Colorado, and Beijing China, to capture the FIRST Tech Challenge’s Jemison Division crown.

VERTEX was also recognized by the judges for:

  • Second place, Promote Award, given to the team that is most successful in creating a compelling video message for the public designed to celebrate science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Third place, Inspire Award, given to the team that best embodies the “challenge” of the FIRST Tech Challenge program. The team is a strong ambassador for FIRST programs and a role model FIRST Team.
  • Deborah Ang ’24, Dean’s List winner, awarded to 10 10th or 11th-graders who have led their teams and communities to increased awareness for FIRST and its mission while achieving personal technical expertise and accomplishment.

Inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — in 1992 and hosted the inaugural robotics competition in a Manchester high school gymnasium. Today, Exeter is among more than 3,700 high school teams and 46,000 students participating in STEM-related competitions sponsored by FIRST.

PEA joined FIRST in 2018 and promptly found success, qualifying for worlds in the team’s first season. This year, the club featured three teams — VERTEX, Surface and Edge — in the state championships, where VERTEX took prizes for best robot and the Innovate Award for “the ingenuity, creativity, and inventiveness to make their designs come to life.”

FIRST Tech Challenge students learn to think like engineers. Teams design, build and code robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. Robots are built from a reusable platform, powered by Android technology, and can be coded using a variety of levels of Java-based programming.

Exeter was one of 192 teams worldwide to qualify for the FIRST Tech Challenge finals in Houston. The team was assigned to the Jemison Division, where they competed against 47 other teams in a series of head-to-head matches. Matches are made up of several periods totaling two minutes and 30 seconds.

VERTEX compiled a 9-2 record in its Houston qualifying matches allied with various teams from the division. They were then chosen along with Beijing’s SUPERNOVA, by Up-A-Creek Robotics, the team from Longmont, to compete in the semifinals and finals. The three-team alliance swept all four playoff matches to win the division.

The triumphant Worlds appearance capped a busy season for the Robotics Club that included the addition of the Surface and Edge teams and the creation of a club podcast, “The Sum of Our Parts.”

“I'd estimate 6,000 total manhours across all team members,” said team captain Isabella Vesely ’23, and that only accounted for the time on the robot itself. “A significant additional number of hours go into community outreach, ranging from local to international levels, which both supports our goal of being non sibi, helps train our own members in technical areas and is an aspect considered at competition.”

Vesely, who is spending the spring term in Washington, D.C., as part of Exeter’s internship program on Capitol Hill, was only able to attend the competition in Houston for the last day and a half. But she said the environment was one of “adrenaline, excitement, and passion.”

“Houston's one of the few places you can strike up conversation with almost anyone next to you about niche robotics details. Nowhere else can you find such a concentrated group of curious, talented, and fascinatingly engineering-addicted kids. The robotics community is consistently welcoming and nowhere else will you find hundreds of kids holding their breath watching robots zoom across fields, sometimes dramatically tipping or colliding, while scoring the critical points as the seconds tick down.”

Team VERTEX's roster:

Isabella Vesely,'23;
Deborah Ang, '24;
Tanish Tyagi, '23;
Charles Potjer, '24;
Celine Tan, '23;
Avaninder Bhaghayath, '26;
Teddy Duncker, '25;
Chaney Hollis, '23;
Byran Huang, '25;
Eric Li, '25;
Eli Pratt, '25;
Alinne Romero-Torres, '24;
Brenda Romero-Torres, '24;
Riya Tyagi, '24;
Annie Vo, '26.