The 12 students, along with mentor Matt Nilsen, brought the title home Sunday from the event in Houston, knowing they are the best of not only the 128 teams that qualified for the worlds, but of more than 3,400 teams involving 85,000 students at the high school level worldwide.
The event is the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge, which involved three days of qualifying rounds before the group's robot, "4216 Rise of Hephaestus" and nicknamed RoH, emerged victorious.
The group of talented students, who were featured in the March 16 edition of the Peninsula Beacon, include team captains Collin Nilsen and Allison Trent, along with Andrew Trent, JD Schrady, Ethan Cooper, Joe Landon, Konrad Zirkle, Conner McCully, Eric Schuster, Shanon Lee, Hailey Schmidt, and Casey Wilson.
“We thought we’d do well and we’re excited to bring home the FTC World Championship to San Diego! Hopefully our win will help other high school students realize that robotics and engineering are important to the future of our country and can also be a lot of fun,” said PLHS senior and team co-captain Nilsen.
Seniors on the Rise of Hephaestus team have been accepted at prestigious universities including UC Berkley, UCLA, the University of Washington and the Air Force Academy, and the large number of underclassmen plan to stay as competitive next year.
As part of the competition, teams were required to form alliances with others, and the group from Point Loma shared the world title with team Captain 724 RedNek Robotics Wun and team 8651 Wait For It... One of the technical challenges for each robot was to approach and lift a two-foot diameter exercise ball four feet into the air before depositing it atop an unstable pillar without falling, and RoH was able to do this repeatedly.
“Winning the FIRST FTC World Championship seemed like an impossible goal three years ago—all the teams locally are really good and we’d never been to a super-regional competition before this year,” said co-captain Allison Trent, also a Pointer senior. “This year we won the super-regional to qualify for the world competition because our team has learned new skills each year. We kept asking ourselves, ‘How can we do this more reliably to be the best alliance partner on the field?’ And this year we are!”
The world title didn't come easily. The 12 students spent an estimated 5,000 hours of time perfecting their creation before winning a local competition sent them on their championship path. They compiled a notebook of engineering notes and drawings that numbers more than 300 pages. And some of them came to the Nilsen family's garage alone on weekends, using a provided lockbox key, to contemplate solutions to the countless daunting tasks the group eventually overcame.
Team volunteer mentor Matt Nilsen BSME, a San Diego Fire Department Battalion Chief, recognized the value of the FIRST program's ability to help students get an early start learning how to solve complex problems that engineers across all industries face.
“Before dedicating my career to public service, I studied engineering at UCSD and worked on projects with NASA and the Department of Energy for local companies General Atomics and Energy Science Laboratories," Nilsen said, "so I know the skills these students are learning are the foundations that engineers everywhere use: understand the challenge, work as a team and brainstorm ways to meet the challenge, work within the resources available to you, partner where you can to gain advantage, design, prototype, build, test, and refine your solutions. I’m proud of the way our team pulled together to meet this year’s challenge. They learned some tremendous skills and I think they had a lot of fun along the way.”
This is the seventh year RoH has been working as a team to meet the different annual challenges issued by FIRST. The team began at Correia Middle School in 2010 with a robotics kit provided by RISE (Robotics Inspiring Science and Engineering), a Point Loma nonprofit organization started by resident and SPAWAR research director JD Morrison.
"FIRST seemed like a fun way for kids to learn basic engineering concepts," said Morrison.
RISE now supports several teams in San Diego. Through RISE, Rise of Hephaestus has received generous support from DoD STEM. Additional team sponsors are the TechOutfitters of Point Loma, STEAMMaker, the Marine Group, Proximetry, Robo3D and Sempra Energy.
FIRST Teams are organized by schools, community groups, or, in the case of Rise of Hephaestus, by like-minded students gathering in a mentor’s garage energized by the idea of designing, programming, and building a robot to meet specific performance challenges given that year.
Today FIRST has grown to include programs for all ages from kindergarten to high school that globally involves over 460,000 students, 52,000 teams, 40,000 robots and 230,000 mentors, coaches, judges and volunteers in 85 countries.
The organization also offers $50 million in scholarships to more than 1,500 students. Anyone interested in starting a team should email SanDiegoFTC@gmail.com.