RadioActive Roaches Robotics Team To Compete Against Worlds Best

Robotics competitions. A sport similar to a mashup between a NASCAR pit crew, chess, fencing and baseball – along with a healthy dose of a sports management video game.

The gold standard for these competitions is the First Robotics Competition, or FRC.

The players on the teams involved, some have as many as 30, Niceville High School’s has 19, have to balance several competitions at once. The players must manage multiple levels of gamesmanship. Internally, they need to navigate team politics and every day disagreements. They need to actually put their computer science, engineering and other STEM skills into practice building the robot. But unlike a lot of other sports, the need to scout and select other teams they would like to ally themselves with in competition. Finally, they need to prepare for the in-the-arena tactics that will bring them victory.

The objective of the robotics completion changes every year. This year’s competition, requires teams to build robots to score points by placing items into a vertical funnel that resembles a basketball hoop. Each individual team is allied with two other teams. Together the three teams make a super team that competes against all of the other super teams in the competition. It mandates what Niceville’s team mentor Ben Shuman calls a “gracious professionalism,” because your competition today might be your ally tomorrow. A lot like real life.

All in all, there’s just a lot of moving parts.

The RadioActive Roaches

Two kids started the Niceville High Robotics Team in 2008 with a single mentor. At the time, the team was just called ‘The Niceville High School Robotics Team’. Simple enough, right? Well, when they went to competition, they met a multitude of other teams with wild names. No one kept the school name. One of the other teams that helped Niceville get its team start commented that the robot they built looked a lot like a cockroach. Inspired by that part of the name – one of the Niceville Robotics team members went out to Walmart and bought a couple of plastic roaches as mascots. At some point, the members of the team noticed that they glowed in the dark. Paired with the fact that the teammates were always ‘active on their walkie-talkies’ and the team became the RadioActive Roaches (with a capital A).

Nowadays, the team has many more members and are competing with the best in the world. They are heading to the highest level of the sport, the Worlds Competition in Houston later this month – where they will compete with more than 450 teams from around the globe in the First Robotics Competition. The First Robotics Competition (or FRC), has competitions – called regionals, throughout the year to qualify for the Worlds Competition. This Year’s FRC Worlds Competition is in Houston, Texas.

Winning the FRC Tallahassee Regional Competition

The RadioActive Roaches earned the right to advance to Houston along with the other two teams in their alliance by winning the Tallahassee Regional Competition.

Niceville High School’s team – called the RadioActive Roaches – earned their spot in Houston by winning, along with two other teams they worked with to defeat all of the other teams in the regional competition, their alliance.

Their win at the FRC Regional in Tallahassee means that their golden ticket to the FRC Worlds Competition in Houston is punched – but team members, like Diego Maldonado Negron are still at the lab just inside the Walton County line or State Route 20 working. He and his teammates really want to be ready for the First Robotics Competition in Houston. That is because the best and the rest are separated by a sliver of perspiration and preparation.

Learning to Work as a Team

Diego believes this FRC experience has inspired him to teach STEM subjects to students as a teacher after college. “I personally want to be a teacher,” Maldonado Negron said, “and hopefully get more kids to get this type of experience to help them figure out what they want to do and to make sure that other people can have the experience, to figure out whether or not they actually want to do this. And if they do, make sure they have the best experience possible, so that they can move further on in their careers.”

As a senior – this is Diego’s shot to win it all with the team. To win, it requires a full team effort. The lesson you learn quickly as a member of this team is that no-one person could or should build this robot. First of all, the competition requires there be at least two members of a team, and secondly – you can’t be good enough at everything to compete against teams of the smartest STEM savants in the world and win.

“Cause not everyone is going to be good at programming,” Maldonado Negron said, “Not everyone is going to be good at mechanical work. But, you can figure out what your niche is and work on building up those skills. And if you don’t figure it out after your first year, you can figure it out later.”

FRC Teaches Leadership Skills

This competition is about STEM skills, says team mentor Ben Shuman, but it’s also about soft skills like teamwork and leadership. “The short answer is that we are building robots. The longer answer is that we are changing the world.“

Even if the kids don’t end up in STEM fields, this program is a benefit for them and for us.

“So we are trying to draw kids into the STEM fields,” Shuman said, “But, what we are really trying to do is build 21st-century citizens. Not only are we trying to bring those STEM skills and show them the possibility of that, but we are really introducing them to those soft skills that we talk about. How do we work with a team? How do we approach a common goal? When you see a problem, how do you collectively come together to find the best solution?”

The final countdown to the competition ends on April 19th, when the Worlds Competition begins in Houston.

The final six teams will compete inside Minute Maid Park, on what FRC organizers dubbed “Einstein Field” for the right to be called the best high school robotics team in the world.

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If you would like to help the RadioActive Roaches make it to their competition in Houston, you can donate to their Go Fund Me page.

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