HomeCommunity NewsChampionships Extend Titanium Robotics’ World

Championships Extend Titanium Robotics’ World

Since he joined Titanium Robotics, San Marino High School senior Gavin Morris and his teammates had one goal in mind: reaching the global stage at the FIRST Championships, otherwise known as “the worlds.”

Morris and the team recently accomplished that dream, competing at the three-day world championship in Houston in April for the first time in the program’s history.

“I think it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in high school,” Morris said of the feat. FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an international organization that seeks to advance education in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Titanium Robotics has two components: the engineers and the business group. The engineers designed and built a robot and presented it to a panel of judges at each competition. The judges rated the robot’s programming and innovation, among other aspects, and the engineers later pitted their designs against other team’s works. Meanwhile the business group helped with team promotion, from marketing and outreach to networking and conferencing. The group has also created social media campaigns and promotions of the team’s efforts throughout the season.

Photo courtesy Makenna Wong / Titanium Robotics was among 75 teams competing in the Milstein Division.

“It was fun to be one of the 600 best teams in the world this year,” said San Marino High teacher Scott Barton, who has been Titanium Robotics’ adviser for 17 years, after the group’s first appearance at “worlds.”

“And I got to expose them to Texas barbecue,” Barton added, in a nod to one of the trip’s perks.

Titanium Robotics qualified for the Texas trip after competing against 60 groups at the East Bay Regional in Berkeley. The team will be recognized at the San Marino Unified School District board meeting on May 28, according to Barton.

Morris has been part of the program since he was a freshman and now serves as the team’s engineering president. Three years later, he said the group was astonished at the size of Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, as well as the number of teams competing at the event that ran from April 17-19.

“It was definitely a very unique experience,” he said. “It’s completely different than any of the competitions we’ve gone to so far.”

Makenna Wong, an SMHS senior who joined the team before entering high school, was also taken aback by the pure size of the venue and said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

“It was definitely much more than a robotics competition,” she said. Morris and Wong said conferences during the event allowed Titanium Robotics to connect with other teams in the event in discussions that included outreach on computer-aided design software, help with job resumes and transitioning to college. Team members were encouraged to pick the brains of previous world champions and hall of fame teams.

Wong, the group’s business president, joined Titanium vice presidents in a seminar about women in STEM that discussed ways to network and grow.

“I thought that was really cool because they really emphasized setting up your own community of women to get you through a career in STEM,” Wong said. “It really resonated with me because I’m planning to go into medicine.”

Students expecting to return to the team next year, of course, gathered valuable knowledge and lessons for upcoming competitions.

Photo courtesy Makenna Wong / Programming, electrical work, computer-aided design and business management are among the Titanium Robotics team’s tasks.

Titanium Robotics mentors — who are either former team members or industry experts in engineering, marketing, among others — also explored the event’s seminars and conferences, bringing back valuable information for future robotics groups.

“It was an amazing time just to learn so many things,” Morris said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have another year. I would love to have another year, but I can’t wait to see what they do next year.”

Funding from the local Rotary Club along with the Chinese Club of San Marino, among others, helped made the trip possible. The excursion cost about $70,000 for lodging, transportation, fees and other expenses.

“I’d like to thank the community for coming together and helping us with this trip,” Barton said. “A lot of the community organizations stepped up to support us and we just really appreciate that.”

Barton said the group has come a long way since he became adviser nearly two decades ago, first starting out with no dedicated space to build devices. With help from the district and the PTSA, Titanium Robotics has since grown into a team with more than 100 students. The group consists mainly of SMHS students but welcomes participants from neighboring cities like Pasadena. Students learn from professional engineers and mentors to build and compete in the annual FIRST Robotics Challenge with a robot of their own design. Programming, electrical work, computer-aided design and business management are all run by student representatives, Barton said.

“We’re pretty self-sufficient,” he added.

The students make the decisions and mentors offer advice, Barton explained, noting that other teams’ mentors design and build the robot.

Photo courtesy Makenna Wong / Titanium Robotics consists of more than 100 students, mainly from San Marino High School, but the team welcomes participants from neighboring cities.

From how the robots are built to the marketing strategies, the high school students make all the decisions, and mentors offer advice and feedback, Barton explained. In other robotics programs, mentors and advisers are heavily involved in the building and marketing, Barton added.

After the team reached Houston, qualification matches were the crux of its second-day events. Qualification rounds consist of multiple matches in which groups are randomly paired into eight divisions of roughly 80 teams. Winners of each division, which were named after scientists, move on to the final playoff bracket known as the Einstein Division. Judgement was based on the design, functionality, programming, presentation, impact and teamwork.

“It’s like basically watching a professional sports game,” said Wong of the Einstein Division. “There are so many people. That was definitely a huge culture shock to me. … It looked like I went to an NHL game or something.”

Titanium Robotics was among 75 teams in the Milstein Division. The team finished in the top 50 competitors, according to Morris.

The team had five qualification matches slated throughout the second day. The group was tasked with preparing its devices and creating drive team strategies. In the competition, the group channeled their strategy from the East Bay Regional, and focused on shuttling. However, their opponent’s defensive efforts and some mechanical faults set back the San Marino team.

Meanwhile, the team’s business cabinet was busy with outreach, focusing on the finances and assessing the overall impact of the group’s efforts. The championships’ business competition forces members to measure their impact and continue to contribute in their communities while applying real-world concepts to their passion in robotics. The opportunities provide growth and a chance to network.

“It was definitely a lot harder competition than our Berkeley regional,” Morris said. “There were a lot more teams. The caliber was much higher. Overall, I still think we did very well for our first time being at worlds. We unfortunately didn’t make playoffs, but for our first time being at worlds, I’m perfectly happy with that.”

First published in the May 16 issue of the San Marino Tribune


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