The hardest fun: Technocats are going to worlds
Published 3:13 pm Thursday, March 9, 2023
BROOKHAVEN — A group of four students exploded with creativity in a workshop in North Brookhaven Wednesday afternoon. The students on Bogue Chitto’s robotics team were creating collectible buttons and t-shirts for the trip of a lifetime as they took a break from working on their robot named Zaapp.
Bogue Chitto Technocats #6273 announced Tuesday it won a state championship after competing at the Mississippi FIRST Tech Challenges held at the University of Mississippi this weekend. Logan and Alex Gerald, Lucy Gates, Caroline Jordan and Morgan White make up the championship team with coaches Reggie Wise and Wendy Cawthorn advising them.
The state title punched a ticket to the Worlds competition to be held in Houston starting April 18. Bogue Chitto won an award for design at the state championships. It brings things full circle for the team.
Jordan said the Technocats shares a workshop space with Slight Malfunction #14236, a team made up of homeschoolers in Lincoln County, and the two compete as an alliance. Slight Malfunction advanced to Worlds in 2022 so it was only fitting the Technocats advanced to worlds this year.
“There will be people from all over the world. Two of the teams are from Mississippi,” Jordan said. “We will be competing with stronger people.”
Robotics competitions are all about building a robot which can play a specific game revealed at the beginning of the year. Wise said it is one of the best kept secrets in the world and Cawthorn said the game is revealed on the Saturday following Labor Day.
Mississippi features 36 programs and 18 of those competed at state. Two teams play as alliances against two other teams in an arena which has a variety of obstacles and tasks to earn points. Wise said the top eight alliances go on to the finals and pick their alliance partner. Bogue Chitto won out to punch their ticket to worlds.
The journey to competing at the world championships began much earlier in the school year. Gates was watching the reveal of the game for this 2022-2023 season and immediately started scribbling down ideas.
The design and mechanics she put on paper developed two robots for the team. Technocats first robot had a few issues and challenges so they built a second one nicknamed Zaapp, sounds electric but is actually a reference to the chip brand Zapps.
“I was asked to join the team because I like to build things. I have always been inclined to mechanics. I started designing as they were still explaining the game,” Gates said. “We went through two robots who each have a similar design. We wanted to find out how to make it better. The components are the same but our arm can turn 360 degrees which means we don’t have to turn around.”
The game is simply who can get the most cones stacked on top of a pole. They have a specific cone which will prevent other teams from scoring any more points on that pole and multiple poles of varying heights are spread throughout the arena.
Gates said at first they thought the game would be hockey related. Alex said this was because the man who revealed the games was wearing a hockey jersey. Whatever ideas they had went straight out the window.
One of the competitions they went to this year in Meridian did not go to plan. Somewhere between their workshop and the competition, water had gotten in the robot causing its arm to spasm out. Jordan said it was a stressful day for her because she was the driver. Gates said the experience changed their season.
“I had a panic attack and I thought we were done,” she said. “They were reading off awards and announced we had won the Inspire trophy. It is the highest award you can get. There is a picture of me on Facebook just sobbing.”
To earn the inspire award the robot has to function well. Gates has to keep a binder of everything they have done engineering wise for the robot over the course of the year and then condenses it down to 16 pages for the judges. They are interviewed about their projects at these competitions. All of those aspects are considered for the Inspire award.
Gates said she hopes to pursue a career in engineering by studying it in college. A builder, her helmet is decorated with Soda Cans as are the collectible buttons she passes out. She is also a back-up driver for the team. Logan Gerald, who was absent on a field trip, is the team’s main driver.
Bogue Chitto’s robotics team meets twice a week for two hours on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has become a place for students to grow out of their shells and learn important life skills.
The youngest student White is 13 and the oldest is Alex who is 15. They are young but so mature in how they communicate. Technocat team members interview people who work in engineering throughout the year as a part of their project.
Alex has been on the team for three years now although his first year does not really count due to COVID forcing everything to be done virtually. He said Cawthorn knew his mom and asked her if he and his brother would be interested in Robotics.
“It is great. I enjoyed it. For me it was useful for getting out of my shell,” Alex said. “I have never been one to talk much but robotics helped. It was easy to talk with people and helped me develop.”
On his helmet are little skulls glued down to it because he is skeleton skinny. Alex is known as the “pit boss” because he answers any questions teams or judges might have. He explained the skulls are also due to him taking on a Pirate role in a school play where he will have many speaking parts.
His mind is more inclined to the coding side of things in robotics. He had to help train the robot’s AI to read images in order to own bonus points during competition. Technocats use the coding language Blocks for their robot. One day he might pursue coding in college but is not really sure because the language is difficult to learn. Story telling through writing also peaks his interest.
White first moved to Bogue Chitto in 4th grade and was asked to join the team two years ago. Her role within the Technocats is to handle 3d printing. Her mom is an art teacher and the creativity was passed down to her.
Last year, most of their robot was made up of 3d printed parts including these devices called duck flaps. The flaps prevented the robot from running over ducks and losing points. Her nickname is the “Duck Queen,” and a rubber duck is glued to her helmet.
“Last year you had to knock ducks off of this carousel to score points. Alex got 11 ducks in 30 seconds but I got 15 in 30 seconds so they started calling me the Duck Queen,” White said.
During competitions she acts as a coach keeping up with the time. She has interest in pursuing a career in cosmetology some day or perhaps teaching. Robotics has taught her how to work well in groups and she could see herself finding a job working in a group or maybe doing 3d printing.
Just like ‘us’
One of the things the students look forward to with Robotics is the competitions. Jordan said she enjoys making friends at the competitions. They go and pass out buttons to other teams and collect buttons along the way.
Her jacket is covered in buttons from the past two years. Wednesday, she was working on designing a new t-shirt for worlds for the kids to wear over the four day competition and coming up with buttons to hand out to the 2,000 participants who will be there. Her nickname is Frog and she is the creative and outreach mind of the group.
Robotics has taught her more about design and artistry. She is able to come up with random ideas to help the team and produces technical drawings which illustrate ideas the team otherwise could not draw.
“At competitions you realize you are all nerds,” Jordan said. “My brother was in the lego league and introduced me to legos. I eventually learned you can do bigger stuff in robotics and I love it. At competitions, we are like one big family.”
White said she feels the same way at competitions.
“I Like how you can walk into a building and feel welcomed and at home,” White said. “You are surrounded by people like us.”
Teams are expected to show Gracious Professionalism at competitions. Gates said it means to simply help other people if they need it.
Paying for the trip
A trip to worlds is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it comes at a hefty price. A rough estimate of expenses due to lodging, registration, parking and transportation for the four day trip is around $10,000. The Technocats are looking for sponsors or donors to help alleviate the expenses of the trip.
People interested in sponsoring the team can contact them through their Facebook page Bogue Chitto Technocats or online through Technocats.team. A link to donate through paypal is available on the site as well. Those wishing to donate via check can make them out to the Bogue Chitto Technocats Robotics team and bring them to the school’s main office.
“It is a wonderful program and one of the best kept secrets,” Wise said. “This is the first time we have won state at Bogue Chitto and gone to worlds in a few years. We are fortunate to advance and happy about it. Our slogan in robotics is ‘The hardest fun you will ever have.’”