Starpoint engineering group wins two trophies for robotics

The Starpoint Pavers, an engineering group at Starpoint School, took home two top trophies in its first robotics competition.

Sherry Oliver, a technology instructor at the school and the group’s supervisor, said she got the idea for a robotics team from a conference she attended the previous year. After presenting the idea to Starpoint, the school received two grants worth about $750 each from the College of Science and Engineering and the Andrews Institute, Oliver said.

Starpoint’s sixth grade class, which has five students between the ages of 12 and 13, was chosen to participate in the robotics competition, Oliver said.

According to the school’s Web site, Starpoint specializes in educating elementary school-aged children with learning differences that interfere with academic progress.

The competition, called the FIRST Lego League, is an annual robotics competition for children between the ages of 9 and 14 sponsored by the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) organization.

The competition is held on the regional and international level and is comprised of four main areas: teamwork, technical (robot) design, research project and how the robot performs on the playing field.

The robots and the playing field are made mostly of Legos. Each team is sent to a playing field to assemble and must design a small vehicle-type robot to best navigate the playing field and complete the assigned task. The robots had to pick small Lego items in the track and bring them back to their area under a certain time limit.

It took most of the fall semester to build the robot, but Grant Slate, Starpoint student and team captain, said it felt like almost a year.

The team takes its name from a robot that Oliver built in the past called Paver.

“They’re paving the way for future teams here, so it makes sense,” Oliver said.

This is the first year the Starpoint Pavers team has been in existence. Haleigh Ricks, Starpoint student and research and development manager, said the students were told to just have fun and not expect to win anything.

Tanner White, Starpoint student and team engineer, said, “We thought we wouldn’t win first place.”

The team surprised themselves and others by beating 63 of the best teams across North Texas and Oklahoma and taking home first place in Technical Design of the robot and first place for the robot competition itself, which consisted of four preliminary rounds and led to a high stakes elimination round against one other team.

In order to win during the preliminary rounds, competitors had to navigate around obstacles in the playing field while picking up certain objects, Oliver said. The more difficult an object was to pick up, the more points it was worth.

According to FIRST Lego League’s Web site, up to 84 teams will be invited to attend the international competition. Teams are chosen through either a nomination process, a lottery or winning a championship award. The teams’ regional operational partner submits the nomination. The Pavers will find out at the end of February whether or not they will be invited to finals.

“The day of the competition was unbelievable,” Oliver said. “I’m proud of them. They did a good job.”

The Starpoint Pavers hope to hear good news from the judges and be invited to the international FIRST Lego League that will be taking place in Atlanta in April.

Slate said he would “probably bounce off the walls” if they were to advance to the next level.