KAYSVILLE—Battling robots – the stuff of science fiction or reality? At Davis High School it’s real and students are taking their creations to a world competition to see just what they’re made of.
“Just to be among the 570 teams that have been invited to the world championship is a pretty big deal,” said engineering/robotics teacher Dane Leifson. “VEX Robotics comes out with a competition to compete in robotics every year. You score points by having your robot throw objects onto the opposing side’s field.”
The field is set up almost like a volleyball court with big bags and star shaped objects for the robots to pick up and toss. “They are preprogrammed,” said Leifson. “We’ve competed in 10 regional matches and we qualified for the worlds at the state championship. We have four of the teams going out of seven from Utah.”
Liefson said the competition doesn’t change for a year so it gives them time to improve, adapt, increase and rebuild to get better. “At the worlds they will unveil the new game for next year,” he said. “It’s not just building a robot, it’s knowing how to tune the small parts better. It’s how the little things work in your favor. Everybody can do the big stuff; it’s the little details that make you better.”
The club is mostly held after school, he said. “I did a little robotics when I was in college at Utah State. When I came here I started playing with the robotics stuff and the kids started helping me so we started the club.”
Davis High has been competing in VEX for six years and they have gone to the world competition every year, said Liefson. “We won two years ago. You get a banner, a trophy and a really good feeling.”
Senior Canada Johansen is the president of the VEX club and she went to the competition last year and will be attending again this year. “It was really fun,” she said. “I took an engineering class from Mr. Liefson and then I tried the robotics and I loved it.”
Johansen said they have a summer camp where they get ideas for their robots. “We start with a design and build a prototype,” she said. “Then we make changes as needed. We all collaborate to do the coding.”
Nick Saunders, a senior, is one of the team’s main coders. “I took a course online and learned some of the basic concepts,” he said. The school also offers a coding class.
Teams are put into six different divisions for the qualifying rounds, Liefson said. “You never know who you’ll be put with,” he said. “The goal is to win all the matches. The higher ranked you are you get to pick your partner when you go into the elimination rounds.”
Johansen hopes to use the skills she’s learned to get an engineering degree in college. “Robotics can be used in all sorts of jobs,” she said.
The VEX competition will be held in Louisville, Ky. April 19 – 22. “It’s a chance for kids to complete at a high level of sport even if it’s the nerdiest thing you could do,” laughed Liefson. “If you go to a high school basketball game the chances of seeing any of those kids go pro is limited, but pretty much every kid in this club will go pro. We’re working with future professionals.”