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Battlefield Students Win Virginia VEX Robotic Championship

| March 3, 2016 | 0 Comments | Education
Haymarket VEX Robotics Team 180 "Born to Bot" on the right, in black, pictured with other winners at the Virginia VEX Robotics Championship.

State champions, Haymarket VEX Robotics Team 180 “Born to Bot,” on the right, in black, pictured with other winners at the Virginia VEX Robotics Championship. (Top Row L-R: Riley George, Phillip Frimel, Tobin Slaven; bottom row L-R: Trevor Lew and Chase Pagon)

Team 180 “Born to Bot,” an independent VEX Robotics team made up of Battlefield High School students from Haymarket and Gainesville, Virginia, won the Virginia VEX Robotics High School Championship and took first place for programming skills.

Their state win qualified them to compete in the VEX World Championships to be held April 20-23 in Louisville, KY.

“This was a dominant performance, especially considering that they are only ninth graders,” said their coach, Ho Lee.

More impressive, they were the only team out of 48 to go undefeated 8-0 in the qualifying rounds. And, in addition to their other awards, they earned Runner-Up in robotics Skills.

Born to Bot is composed of five ninth grade students: Chase Pagon, Tobin Slaven, Riley George, Trevor Lew and Philip Frimel.

Four of the five members began competing with VEX Robotics when they were Bull Run Middle School students. Although Battlefield offered other robotics programs, the boys decided to stick with VEX, and founded their own team, which is run coached and funded by their parents.

Team 180 VEX State Champs

“Born to Bot” boys with their robot and trophies. Top row L-R: Tobin Slaven, Trevor Lew and Riley George; bottom row L-R: Chase Pagon and Phillip Frimel.

VEX Robotics is both an engineering programming competition and a strategic sport. Teams are tasked with designing a robot that can compete in a basketball-like competition. The robot must pick up balls off the court and sink more baskets than the opposing team in an allotted amount of time.

The robots must be operated automatically via preprogramming and remotely, driven by a team member. When competing, teams are paired together and must work cooperatively to defeat their opponents.

As an independent team, Born to Bot did not meet every day after school, nor get classroom instruction. They do, however, plan a rigorous yet flexible practice schedule to accommodate their other activities. And, they have the advantage of getting a head start once a new game is announced in the spring.

After taking the time to design and build their robots, most teams compete using their prototype bots, but not Born to Bot. Team 180 made constant alterations to make their bot faster, more agile and more precise. Team members believe that never being satisfied with their existing robot gave them a competitive edge.

The young men gathered ideas for improvements and strategy by researching online and watching Youtube videos of VEX competitions. They also competed in nine competitions where they gained knowledge about engineering and strategy.

Their parents supported their efforts seeing how dedicated they were to the STEM endeavor.

“It’s about seeing them work so hard and be so successful, and they work very, very hard,” said Tobin’s mom, Pam Lee

Team 180 believes another aspect of their success lie in how they played the game. They decided to approach the competition with a competitive mindset, employing strategy, and playing to win. College teams do this, the boys explained, but high school teams rarely do.

“Building the robot is maybe a third of it, but a lot of it now is strategy and just communication with your team and your alliance partners as well,” Phillip said.

Team members would scout their tournaments to learn which teams would make the best partners. They particularly wanted to work with teams that could compensate for their weaknesses, and thus often looked for teams that had a faster robot than them.

“We built [our bot] to be fast and versatile in general,” said Trevor. “We wanted to be really accurate with the balls from the back, but then we realized other teams were really fast.”

They also employed strategy in the first few minutes of game-play, collecting as many balls as they could, Phillip explained.

“Our [strategy] is to go into the field first to get the field balls, in particular, the orange balls, and then return for the driver control loads. That gives the other team only their drive balls to use,” he said.

The team practices in Tobin’s house, as his parents, including, stepdad, coach Lee, have given up most of their rec room for the “Born to Bot” crew.  Lee explained that he doesn’t mind losing his basement.

“It was something that the boys had an interest in since middle school, and they wanted to continue doing it. We know where they are, and it is something they can use later on, learning about programming and building. We don’t mind because it’s not like they’re having a party down here; they’re learning.”

According to Trevor, they were pretty confident going into the competition, knowing they had a good chance. Phillip pointed out that although they were a young team, some of them had worked together since the sixth grade.

Lee said they were being modest about their win as they really dominated the competition.

Born to Bot will continue to practice for the Worlds tournament.

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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