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IPS teams advance to world robotics championship next month in Dallas

Panthers Robotics Team 11027 celebrates at the recent Indiana state robotics championships.

Coming off a recent successful trip to the state finals, students from two schools within Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) plan to outperform their peers from around the globe when they travel to Dallas next month to compete in the VEX IQ World Championships.

Going to the world championships will be a middle school team from the Center for Inquiry School 2 and. Cold Spring School, which will be represented by two middle school and three elementary school teams.

Eighth-graders Jack Carlson and Oliver Deer, along with seventh-grade student Tate Truman from the Center for Inquiry School 2 are preparing their still unnamed robot to catch and throw rubber balls during the competition.

“We all worked together on this project to build and program the robot,” said Deer, one of the members of the Steam Punk Panthers, or more simply the Panthers Robotics Team 11027. “It has been a lot of fun and work, challenging us every day.”

The VIQC Middle School competition, a part of the VEX IQ World Championship, is an invitation-only competition in Dallas, Texas beginning May 8. Teams must qualify for an invitation to this event and will compete in a robotics competition entitled “Pitching In.”

Both schools received an invitation after competing at the recent annual Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship on March 12, 2022 at Lucas Oil Stadium. They joined 274 teams from elementary, middle and high schools across the state.

Team co-coach John Stevenson, a mathematics teacher at the Center for Inquiry School 2, said his group has worked throughout the year to develop and program a robot that will complete the designated challenge.

Engineering, problem-solving, teamwork, communication, and creativity skills are essential for success, he said.

Stevenson said the team consists of best young programmers to come through his school in recent memory. He shares the coaching duties with Rob Carlson, a local computer engineer and father of a student in the robotic program.

“They have a knack for programming that is key to winning in these contests,” he said. “But they are great at solving problems. I’ve never seen a group combine all these skills into an effective unit like these three.”

Carlson has witnessed the trio grow together as a team, overcoming adversity and battling into the top level of robotics contests. Going to the World Championship is a significant turnaround from the start of the season when youngsters finished dead last out of 36 teams. 

“At that point, the world championship did not seem like a possibility,” Carlson said. “The team concept for their robot was good, but the robot did not function well. As the team practiced, the robot broke a lot. Gradually, they fixed different parts of the robot until it broke less and functioned successfully. At this point, the team needed to make the robot competitive with the other top teams in the state, so they worked on improving the robot.”

He noted the team changed the gear ratio of the drive mechanism to make the robot faster. The team improved the intake so the robot can pick up six balls at a time to make their robot more efficient.

At the same time, they have perfected the launching mechanism, so it is consistent every time. The team continued to improve until they finished 14th in the state competition and 19th in the state overall for skills.

“They have learned how to build a machine, have spent countless hours practicing driving and fixing the robot, and have refined the autonomous program,” Carlson said.

Truman believes he and his teammates have a good shot at coming away with some honors while in Texas.

“There are multiple ways to meet the challenge, and we have to find the best way” he said. “It’s a really simple game. The machine collects the rubber balls and then throws them in the basket. I think we can do it.”

The group has been meeting three times a week for months to prepare for the contents.

“My favorite part is at the beginning of the year,” Truman said. “You start with nothing but a bunch of useless parts, and by the end you have created a full robot that can grab balls and shoot them into a target.”