The intensive multi-day competition, which was attended by thousands of fans, educators and industry leaders, tested the skill of more than 60 high school student teams from around the world in their ability to design and build a robot required to undergo specific tasks in the action-packed competition.
In this year’s challenge, Ultimate Ascent, teams working with professional engineering mentors over a six-week period were tasked to fabricate a robot that scored points by flying 11-inch discs into 8-foot-tall goals during two-minute matches.
“The six-week build season starts the first Saturday in January and ends the Tuesday after Presidents’ Day weekend. It starts off with a kick-off event where FIRST announces a new game and releases the game manual for that year,” said Holy Cows’ mentor Jon Jack. “Prior to this point, the teams have no idea what the game is going to be, so what follows is an intense period of strategy, design, fabrication, assembly and testing.”
Jack and his robotics team met every day during the build season, developing strategy, testing robot actions, simulating the game and prototyping the robot from CAD models before finally to bringing their robot, “Daisy Thunder,” to life.
The team’s diligence paid off, with “Daisy Thunder” wowing the crowd at the competition by winning 16 of 17 matches and earning Holy Cows the highest honor in the regional competition for the fifth consecutive year.
In addition to the obvious benefit of developing key engineering talents, students on the robotics team also acquire invaluable skill sets beyond the fields of science and technology.
“They learn how to work in a large team, time management, public speaking and leadership skills,” said Jack. “FIRST also opens the door to college scholarships. Many colleges and universities realize the type of students FIRST produces and want those students at their school.”
Some past team members who may never have thought of science and technology as a career option have gone on to college to pursue degrees in engineering and design thanks to the benefits of the program, said Jack.
Despite the team’s many past and present successes, Jack emphasized the importance of positive progression as his team looks forward to its next challenge at the world championships.
“One of our tenants is continuous improvement. We never look at our robot and go ‘it’s done.’ No matter what, there’s always something we can do better or improve on,” he said. “The next three weeks, we’ll be making changes to the robot and testing those changes. One of our goals every year is to build a robot capable of competing for a world championship and this year is no different.”
Despite previously making it to the “Sweet Sixteen” in the world championships three times, team Holy Cows has yet to secure the world championship’s highest title, the Chairman’s Award – an achievement the team hopes to accomplish in this year’s competition.
“Winning this award would be a huge honor as there are only three teams west of the Mississippi to have won this award,” said Jack. “This year we hope to get over that hump and hopefully bring a world championship to San Diego.”
What’s with the name?
An often-overlooked component of the FIRST competition is the need for teams to stand out — both in skill and in name, said Jack.
After High Tech High’s robotics team, formerly known as “A Fistful of Motors,” attended its first competition in 2005, the team realized its team name was indistinguishable from the rest.
“There are over 2,000 teams in FIRST and so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd when regional competitions have between 40 and 70 teams, and the championships have almost 400 teams competing,” said Jack. “We wanted to stand out and be noticed and easy to remember.”
Over the next year, the team began brainstorming new names, listing around 50 potential names on a white board for review between the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
“Brett Peterson, who was a humanities teacher at the time and is currently the director of High Tech High, walked in and said, ‘Holy Cow! That’s a lot of names!’” said Jack.
From that point on, the Holy Cows was added to the white board and the name stuck.