Robotics Competition is STEM-centric fun

April 08, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Gracie Shuga from Westwood High in Mesa helped build Tarantula

Gracie Shuga from Westwood High in Mesa helped build Tarantula

Story and photos by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

Westwood High senior Gracie Shuga and her teammates lined up Friday with their star player, Tarantula, to await the next bout in Grand Canyon University Arena.

Unlike the students and teachers who comprise the rest of the Westwood Robotics team from Mesa, Tarantula is a robot that rolls on the ground and fires balls through the air.


Getting ready for a match Friday afternoon at GCU Arena.

“It’s a shooter bot,” Shuga said. “It’s designed from a pitching machine.”

Tarantula and the other 42 other robots in the 2016 Arizona West Regional FIRST Robotics Competition had similar dimensions: square-shaped, about two feet high and resembling small, gadget-studded life rafts on wheels.

Designed, built and operated by students, the robots’ quest in this year’s competition is to cross barriers, hurl boulders (balls) into the upper windows of a “stone” tower and scale its walls.

These are no easy barriers for low-riding robots. They have to cross various medieval-style obstacles, such as a sally port (entryway to a prison), cheval de frise (anti-cavalry measure with spikes), “moat,” rampart (defensive wall with a walkway), drawbridge, portcullis (heavy iron gate for a castle) and “rough terrain.” Defenses are selected for given matches by audience members who scream the loudest.

Robots are placed onto three-member, red-versus-blue alliances that score individual and team points while students operate them just beyond the playing field.

After matches, battered and worn robots are carried into pits that resemble those at auto races.

Westwood ranked 36th of 43 going into Friday afternoon but moved up to 21st later in the day before dropping to 26th. The robot has a consistent shot, scales walls, and conquers most barriers, which could earn it an alliance spot in the final matches Saturday, said Richard Leistner, Westwood High math teacher.

The free, family-friendly event, which will go until 6:30 p.m. Saturday, is a mix of high-tech and older times, “stone” towers and remote-controlled gizmos. Teammates don matching T-shirts, pass out buttons and wave flags and posters. Music blares.

Checking out Tarantula after a match at the FIRST Robotics competition.

Checking out Tarantula after a match at the FIRST Robotics competition.

The announcer’s booming voice rivals those heard on televised races and wrestling matches, while the audience yells and cheers nearly as loudly as GCU’s Havocs. There even was an unrelated entrant named “Thunder.”

The Holy Cows from High Tech High in San Diego had a winner with Daisy Chupacabra, named after a mythical, medieval monster that eats goats and cows, said junior Mario Avila. The team was second after an early afternoon Friday match.

“We designed it to be really robust,” said junior Krisztina Rakosi. “We had a similar robot (several years ago) whose task was to throw Frisbees.”

Amanda Hughens, GCU K-12 STEM Outreach manager, said the robotics contest is a great time and sends a positive message.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to see STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in action,” Hughens said.

Haley Peebles, associate director for GCU’s Center for Integrated Science, Engineering and Technology, said the excitement and energy of the students was contagious.

“This event shows the motivation and potential for STEM careers and professions,” Peebles said.

Contact Laurie Merrill at 602-639-6511 or [email protected]

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