High school students compete in robotics challenge

HARLINGEN — Chains and gears whirred as the gray glyph slowly climbed up the platform.

The robotics project by the Edison League at Early College High School seemed to have been refined to perfection, but team members are still seeking more innovations, said Ricardo Munoz, 18.

“We’ve got new elevators,” Munoz said. “It’s not finished yet.”

Ricardo is one of eight members of the Edison League who have been working on their robotics projects since October. They’re excited about a competition today.

“The challenge is we have to put a glyph inside a crypto box made of plastic columns,” said Lizbeth Herrera, 18, a senior.

They’ve performed well in three competitions this year, said Alias Ortega, league sponsor.

“They’ve made a lot of progress,” Ortega said. “They’ve gone through about three different models of robot and they’ve gone through three different kits so they’re definitely putting in a lot of work.”

The Bell League, another team at ECHS, performed well at an event last weekend. They will compete next week to qualify for the state meet in Austin along with Edison. Sponsor Joseph Rigdon admires their dedication.

“They meet after school and on weekends,” he said. “They take time out of their busy schedules to practice.”

The progress of the ECHS Edison League has been a continuous process of change.

“After one competition they’d come up to me and like, ‘Can you order this?’ because they’d have this new idea,” Ortega said.

Ricardo concurred.

“We changed the robot five times,” he said. “It’s completely different. We get to think creatively. We have changed and come up with new designs.”

The elevators are the newest addition to the robot.

“The glyphs are the little cubes and you have to stack those in the columns,” Ortega said. “They’re trying to come up with an elevator concept so that they can stack those cubes.”

One of the greater challenges has been the time element, said Lizbeth. The whole task must be completed in two minutes.

“We preprogram the robot for the first 30 seconds,” she said. “The rest of the time we control it.”

She’s enjoyed the opportunity to meet people.

“We get to meet a lot of people,” she said. “They are very close. It’s a very good environment to be in.”

Harlingen High School, Harlingen High School South, and the Harlingen School for Health Professions also have FIRST Tech Challenge leagues aiming for the state competition later this month.

What is FIRST Tech Challenge?

It’s way more than building robots. FIRST Tech Challenge teams (10+ members, grades 7-12) are challenged to design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. Participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have!”

FIRST Tech Challenge competitions are divided by region, and each region divides its players into leagues. Students compete in leagues for the opportunity to show their talent at the state level. Each region names its own leagues.