Robotics team qualifies for world competition
A small robotics team comprised of local teens made its mark at a Pacific Northwest District competition earlier this month in Tacoma, Wash. NerdHerd 4043 – a robotics club that has members from Newberg, Dundee, McMinnville and other Yamhill County cities – qualified for the F.I.R.S.T. robotics global competition thanks to its performance at districts and in previous competitions. The team fundraised to make the trip to Houston, Texas, at the end of April.
NerdHerd finds out this week if it raised enough money to go. To even qualify is a historic achievement for the team, which had its best season of competition ever, according to co-captain Ethan Hansen – a student at McMinnville High School.
"It's really an underdog story, because most people wouldn't expect us to move on to worlds," Hansen said. "We only have about a dozen or so members and teams who move on to worlds typically have 20-plus. The best ones have almost 40 members."
Annika Sellke is a student at Newberg High and the scouting captain for the team, which means she collects and analyzes data about other teams during competition season. She said the information is often crucial to the team's success.
"We use the information I gather if we become alliance captains during a competition, to choose other teams to join our alliance," Sellke said. "I joined the team after attending a meeting with my friend. I thought it was very fun, so I continued to go and I'm still a part of the team almost three years later."
Teams from Israel, China, Turkey and elsewhere will travel to the United States to compete at worlds in Houston. The cost of attendance is staggering, though, which is why Hansen, Sellke and their teammates decided to fundraise in order to make the trip.
Registration fees alone are $5,000 for the team. Travel is a separate expense and has to be covered out of pocket. Hansen said the team sought corporate and local business sponsorships in addition to its GoFundMe efforts.
This year's journey began in January, when the team had six weeks to build a robot that played a deep space-themed game. In the game, robots have to move overinflated balls and hatch panels from one place to another in order to score points. NerdHerd built its robot with an eye on efficiency.
"There are so many ways that you can play the game, but you don't have to do it all in order to play effectively," Hansen said. "That's one of the reasons we are doing so well is because we did a good job analyzing our strengths and weaknesses and built the bot accordingly. Our robot is very simple, which means it's robust. It picks up the cargo and puts it where it's supposed to go, and it does it fast."
Competition season began in March at an event in Wilsonville. NerdHerd did well by previous standards, but it didn't place. It wasn't until it won a competition in Lake Oswego a few weeks later that worlds started to become a distinct possibility.
Districts sealed their qualification. All that remains is scrounging together the funds, which Hansen was optimistic about as of Friday. The GoFundMe requested $10,000 for the trip and was about halfway there as of last week.
NerdHerd expanded in recent years and hopes this year isn't the last that they qualify for worlds.
"We used to be just a McMinnville High team and now we are a Yamhill County-wide team," Hansen said. "That's really hard, especially because we had a big senior class graduate, so it's been tough with so few kids on the team. Anyone can join and we're always looking for new members."