Matt Wendland
Meg Vader of Tacoma, Andrew May of West Seattle, and Austin Miller of Burien pose with their robot, “Flower” after making their last adjustments before the final rounds at the Pacific Northwest District Championship.

Aviation High School students take 6th at World FIRST Championship robotics competition after taking 1st in US NW finals

By Matt Wendland

After taking first place in the Pacific Northwest District Championship FIRST Robotics competition, Raisbeck Aviation High School’s robotics team, Skunk Works Robotics, progressed on to the world championships as the sole Highline School District representative and returned home on Sunday as one of the highest ranked teams in the world.

FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an American inventor who is best known for his development of the Segway. According to the FIRST website, “Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

The FIRST Robotics Championship (FRC) division finals for the Pacific Northwest was held on April 18 and 19 in Portland, OR. The event was made up of just over 60 of the top ranking teams from Washington and Oregon who had excelled in competition in their respective regional matches. Of those over 60 top ranked teams, two came from the Highline School District: the High Tekerz of Highline High School and Skunk Works Robotics of Raisbeck Aviation High School.

In the current season, teams were given six weeks to design and build robots that could score points using athletic-like balls. Scoring points required the robots to be able to accomplish things such as picking up a ball, catching a ball, shooting or throwing it over a beam at center court, and throwing it into a high goal or rolling it into a low goal. Each team designed and built robots that could accomplish some or all of the previously mentioned goals while keeping in mind that things like height, shape, material, and method could impact speed and offensive and defensive abilities.

In the Pacific Northwest District Championship, both Skunk Works and the High Tekerz returned home with individual awards. The High Tekerz were awarded the Imagery Award for their team appearance because they were one of the only teams who set aside a specific budget for their uniforms and to decorate their robot. Skunk Works earned one of the highest honors, the Regional Chairman's Award, which is given to a group that sets an example for other teams. Skunk Works developed a program to "scout" for teams they may want to become allies with using Tableau software. The program keeps track of the abilities of other robots, allowing Skunk Works to identify other teams' strengths and weaknesses. After finding the use of this software to be helpful in competition and planning, Aviation students made this program available to other FIRST competitors. This act of good sportsmanship helped them to be recognized for the Chairman's Award.

After hundreds of qualification matches made up of three-on-three allied teams, Aviation and their allies from Issaquah and Auburn emerged as the first place champions of the Pacific Northwest District Championship and secured themselves a trip to the world FIRST Championships in St. Louis, MO.

On April 23rd, Aviation students, their allied teams, and 21 other teams from Washington and Oregon competed as part of 400 teams from around the world. For the first time in the history of Aviation robotics, Skunk Works and their allies advanced all the way to the final round of the world championships. Though their competitors emerged from the final round victorious, Aviation students returned home to Washington on Sunday ranked the 6th best FIRST robotics team in the world.

The FRC describes themselves as a "varsity sport for the mind" that prepares young adults for jobs in engineering, science and technology. Students build marketable skills by solving a real-world engineering problem with the help of adult mentors. Students learn teamwork and time management, as well as programming and engineering basics that they can use later in life and in school. Students that participate in the FRC have exclusive access to over $19 million of scholarships offered only to FIRST students and over 88 percent of these students go to college.

Though Aviation and Highline High School were the only Highline School District teams at the regional competition, each of the major high schools in the district have FIRST robotics programs accessible to students. The programs will commence again next January.