Oak Ridge robotics team goes high-tech

Robotics students watch as one team navigates its robot through the course. Photo by Jason Bross
Robotics students watch as one team navigates its robot through the course. Photo by Jason Bross

If the FIRST Tech Challenge Team No. 4238 needs a theme song for its group it might consider the 1979 disco hit “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge.

The eight Oak Ridge High School students have worked together for years. Four of the eight — Alex Krueger, Amey Natu, Ben Tucker and Thomas Tucker — first teamed up as a LEGO robotics team in elementary school. Sumega Mandadi, Ryan Mclaughlin, Shivani Sharma and Kaythan Somavarapu joined later and now Team 4238, coached by Brian Tucker, builds and creates high-tech robots.

“As they got older, they wanted bigger challenges, the bigger programming and engineer challenges,” said Tucker, who works as an engineer for Intel in Folsom.

To share its passion for the skill, the team held its inaugural FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Qualifying Tournament Sunday inside Oak Ridge High School’s gymnasium.

Oak Ridge’s Interact Club and [email protected] co-hosted the event — which included 16 robotics teams from the Folsom, Auburn, Elk Grove and the Bay Area — where high school students showed off their high-tech robots the size of a child’s Tonka Tractor.

Inside the school’s cafeteria older elementary and middle schools students shared demonstrations of similar robots.

Sunday’s event preceded a big robotics competition coming up in Las Vegas. To prepare Robot Alta, Oak Ridge’s teammates plan to meet every day … burning the midnight oil, if needed, to get things just right.

“We’re preparing for that one,” said Mandadi, a senior at Oak Ridge.

The group is working with two robots, which means almost twice as many hours.

“We’re trying some new, radical ideas,” Ben Tucker explained.

Each person is responsible for parts and running Robot Alta.

“Someone will be leader of hardware,” Ben said.

Mandadi added, “Ben is programming. He’ll have two or three people help him with that. ”

Mandadi is in charge of the game manual — updated of  rules for competitions — and working with other members of the group.

On Sunday Mandadi and Tucker  joined their teammates had various duties at the qualifying competition — judging, preparing teams and entering their robotic masterpieces into the ring.

The object of the local competition was to maneuver the robots around the obstacle course to retrieve a ball similar to a basketball but smaller. The robots have to drive around crates placed inside the ring in order to retrieve the ball. Teams were judged on design, creativity, programming and outreach, with the winner advancing to the state level competition in March.

For more information about the FIRST organization go to usfirst.org or NorCalFTC.org.

The FIRST Tech Challenge Team No. 4238 is seeking donations toward the Las Vegas trip. Anyone wishing to contribute can contact Brian Tucker at [email protected].

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