For Chantilly Robotics, the nuts and bolts that make a successful team aren’t just the ones on their robot.
The group of high school students earned one of the top awards at a Washington, D.C., regional robotics competition and a place in the FIRST Robotics world championship in St. Louis later this month through their teamwork as much as their engineering prowess.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t touch the robot,” said senior Taylor Matthews, the team’s marketing director. “I’d be afraid it would explode.”
While other teammates go through the process of building a robot from scratch, Matthews serves as another cog for the FIRST Robotics competition team.
FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is an organization that runs robotics competitions and other workshops and events to promote an interest in science and technology in young people. In an effort for inclusion, FIRST honors teams as much for their marketing and fundraising efforts as for their tech savvy.
Chantilly Robotics, which is based at Chantilly Academy, a science and technology education program located at Chantilly High School, counts more than 60 active members, according to team sponsor Cathie Walker, a special education teacher at Chantilly. To organize such a large number of participants, the team uses a corporate structure, allowing each member to find their niche, whether in engineering or public relations.
At the Greater Washington D.C. Regional held March 27-29 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Chantilly Robotics won the Engineering Inspiration Award, which takes into consideration a team’s technical as well as its business efforts.
“This award really embodies our team’s success across all the aspects of the competition,” Matthews said.
The award made Chantilly one of six teams out of the 50 at the regional competition to qualify for the world championship April 23-26 in St. Louis. The Engineering Inspiration Award included a sponsorship from NASA, which will pay the team’s entry fee to the competition.
There, Chantilly Robotics will compete against more than 400 teams from across the country and several from around the world.
Each team will show off their robot, built in an intense six-week span earlier this year.
In early January of each year, all teams receive the rules to a new game to be played by the robots at the competitions. The teams then have six weeks to design and build a robot to accomplish the tasks required by the game.
This year, the challenge required robots to move across a carpeted playing field and shoot exercise balls through elevated metal goals.
FIRST describes program as “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” Chantilly Robotics met five days per week during the intense building season, trying not only to construct and program their robot but to fundraise their trips to two regional competitions, which cost the team combined entry fees of $9,000 combined.
The end result, though, has been worth it.
“It never even crossed my mind that we could go to the championship,” said junior Rachel Moore. “We couldn’t believe it. I think we annoyed a lot of the other teams because everyone could hear us cheering and howling. I’m so excited for nationals.”