Sequim High School robotics students, from left, Nick Charters, Riley Chase and Josh King, survey a robotic component before a competition in early March. The team qualified for the FIRST Robotics Competition world championship in Houston and will take their robot there to compete against teams from across the globe. (Patsene Dashiell/Sequim School District)

Sequim High School robotics students, from left, Nick Charters, Riley Chase and Josh King, survey a robotic component before a competition in early March. The team qualified for the FIRST Robotics Competition world championship in Houston and will take their robot there to compete against teams from across the globe. (Patsene Dashiell/Sequim School District)

Peninsula students headed to Houston for robotics contest

PORT TOWNSEND — Two North Olympic Peninsula robotics teams will compete in an international contest in Houston starting Wednesday, where they will work with and against teams from around the world.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Competition started in January when the season’s challenge was announced and many teams began building robots, which must be less than 100 pounds and cost less than $4,000, that could compete.

This year, teams had to build robots that would prepare an “airship” for travel. Teams could earn points by shooting fuel cells (whiffle balls) into a goal and by delivering gears from one side of the playing field to the “airship.” Once all the gears and fuel cells were delivered, the robots had to then be able to climb a rope to get into the “airship” as though it were ready for takeoff.

Teams created alliances, working with two other teams, to score as many points as possible in two minutes.

“It ends of being a very physical game for the robots,” said Sequim faculty advisor and robotics teacher Brad Moore. “You run into the other team, sometimes your team and in that time there’s no way to get it all done without three teams.”

The Sequim Robotics Federation and Port Townsend Roboctopi are two of 48 teams competing from the Northwest District, according to Moore.

The teams are heading to Houston, and some left as early as Monday night while others are coming in just before the competition begins on red-eye flights Wednesday morning, according to Port Townsend team parent Brian Morningstar and Moore.

“We’re super excited to go,” said Morningstar. “We really have no expectation since there are a lot of NASA- and aerospace-backed teams we’re going to go up against. Many of them we’ve watched online since they’re really world-renowned.”

The Port Townsend team qualified for the international FIRST Robotics Competition in Houston with an overall ranking of 36th out of 155 teams in the Pacific Northwest District.

The team came in 11th in a district competition in Mount Vernon in March, won the competition in Auburn in the beginning of April and finished 51st in the final districts competition in Cheney on April 5-8.

Roboctopi is made up of students ages 16 to 18, from five different schools in Jefferson County: Pallas Burhen travels between Port Townsend and the Peninsula College campus in Port Angeles for school; Aaron Robert is from Chimacum; Emily Skeel splits her time between Chimacum and Port Townsend; Ella Ashford is home-schooled; Max Morningstar and Spencer Drewry both attend West Sound Academy; and James Kienle now lives in Issaquah but returned to Port Townsend to help build the team’s robot.

Chance Kane, Story Walsh, Elias Bothell, Tate Braden, Raphael Bakin and team captain Sam Jasper all attend Port Townsend High School.

“It’s a pretty amazing David and Goliath story how our little Port Townsend-area team of less than 10 members has kept advancing through the levels of competition up against giant teams (some with more than 130 members) from the Seattle-Tacoma area that are very well funded and mentored by Boeing, Microsoft and the like,” said Catherine Burhen, Pallas’ mother, in an email.

Sequim is also a small team for this competition with only 10 members including Riley Chase, Riley Scott, Nick Charters, Xavier Conway and Max Koonzk. The full list of team members was not immediately available.

The team from Sequim also ranked 11th at the competition in Mount Vernon but a 17th-place finish at the Auburn competition meant they did not move on to Cheney.

However, because the team had been awarded a Quality Award from the judges in Mount Vernon and and Judges’ Award in Auburn they were able to qualify for the wait list for the international competition where they were one of just a few teams selected to go.

“It’s basically a lottery,” said Moore. “We had done a lot of fundraising earlier in the year and raised a couple thousand dollars so it’s not like we needed to raise a large chunk of money all at once. So we decided to go for it.”

Members of the Port Townsend team began fundraising efforts when they returned from the competition in Cheney. The team is hoping to raise money to fund their trip to Houston, which costs an estimated $20,000 including travel expenses and the competition entrance fee.

Currently they have raised just over $6,500, but Morningstar said that won’t deter them from heading to Houston.

“We’re definitely going to make it happen,” said Morningstar. “As soon as they announced who had qualified you could watch plane fares go up so we really had to make a decision quickly.”

Donations are being collected at the Port Townsend Co-Op through its bag donations where shoppers are credited 5 cents for every reusable container they use to carry groceries home. Shoppers can then donate that credit by dropping a bean in a collection jar at the store.

Students on the robotics team have also been collecting donations outside the Co-Op entrance.

The Port Townsend team is also collecting donations online at: http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Roboctopi. The website donations totalled $6,515 as of Monday.

The Sequim robotics team has been competing for seven years and this is the first team to make it this far in the competition.

“We competed really well at both of our events,” Moore said. “I think they’ll do well, and they’re going to show they deserve to be there.”

Sequim also had a site open for donations at: sequimroboticsfederation.weebly.com.

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.

The Roboctopi, a school robotics team of Jefferson County students, will compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition world championship in Houston. The team has eight members.

The Roboctopi, a school robotics team of Jefferson County students, will compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition world championship in Houston. The team has eight members.

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