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News and Updates

South Tech High School

Welcome to the South Tech news archive where we feature stories on students, school programs and activities, alumni and professional partnerships.
South Tech Engineering Tech Heads Reach Finals at FIRST World Championship

South Tech Engineering Tech Heads Reach Finals at FIRST World Championship

On January 5, 2019, approximately 4 thousand FIRST Robotics Teams from all over the world attended their local kick-off location eagerly anticipating this year’s game reveal. NASA provides the satellite downlink to broadcast the reveal video simultaneously to every kick-off location worldwide. The atmosphere is pure excitement.

Wild speculation is discussed on what the game will entail. Will it be a difficult engineering challenge? Will we be able to overcome the design limitations? Will we adhere to the strict 6 week build season to finish the Robot and make it competition ready? Can we somehow qualify for the World Championship? South Tech Engineering Team 1658 was among the teams anxiously awaiting the start of a new FIRST Robotics season and ready to meet the challenge.

Upon the game reveal, the South Tech team immediately digested the manual and started the engineering process.  The South Tech Tech Heads, Team 1658’s name, had six weeks to conceive, prototype, design and construct a robot to compete at the St. Louis Regional Competition. By February 19, all work on the competition robot had to be complete which creates a working environment of intensity and commitment demanding weekend and after school work from the team. The Tech Heads were driven to gain entry into the World Championship and used the time between their robot’s completion and the regional competition, held at the Chaifetz Arena on March 13 through 16, to build an identical robot for troubleshooting, software adjustments, and drive team practice.

During the St. Louis Regional, the Tech Heads competed against 48 teams from across the midwest in qualification and then elimination matches. The top 8 seeded robots after the qualification matches chose their alliance of three robots to compete in the elimination round. After 10 qualification matches, the Tech Heads were seeded Number 1 with a record of 9-1.  The elimination rounds were brutal as this year’s game allowed for defensive robots.  The Tech Heads were targeted and their robot was severely damaged, suffering from a bent frame and having its vision targeting system torn off.  Although a 6 minute time out was afforded to the team to attempt to repair their robot, they fell short and the Tech Heads could not secure victory in the finals.  But the dream didn’t end there!

During the Regional’s closing ceremonies, South Tech was awarded the very prestigious Industrial Design and Engineering award for outstanding performance from Ford Motor Company and learned that a “Wildcard” qualification for the World Championship would be theirs as the highest seeded team in the competition. The Tech Heads were Houston bound and ready to rumble in the World Championship. “The intense focus of this team is unparalleled. The students are willing to work as many hours as it takes to compete on a world class level” said Mr. Rola the Engineering instructor.

Finals competition required that the competing robot be crated and shipped to Houston within 3 days after the regional competition, meaning the Tech Heads would have to be ready to execute any repairs or upgrades until they arrived at the World Championship, held April 17 to April 20. Utilizing their practice robot, the team was able to practice game strategies, hone their skills, machine repair parts, and develop software upgrades for the autonomous routine (in which the robot scores points without the aid of human drivers). The team had a 4-hour window upon arriving at the venue in which to repair and ready their robot for competition.

The First Robotics World Championship is the culmination of 8000 matches, 7 weeks of competition, and 179 tournaments across the globe, resulting in 400 FIRST teams qualifying for the games.  Teams cycle first through division tournaments in which alliance robots are randomly chosen.  The Tech Heads were assigned to the Roebling division and accumulated scouting data on each team in the division. The data indicated that several of the alliance pairings produced by the field would make it difficult for the team to win, but they persevered.

Our students arrived in Houston at 1:00 p.m., quickly checked in to their hotel and headed to the George Brown Convention center to get to work on their damaged robot.  They were slated for an 8:30 a.m. match the following morning and would have to ready to handle 3 more matches that day and 6 matches the next.  In spite of suffering continued damage from defensive robots targeting them, the Tech Heads robot was performing flawlessly by the end of matches on the first competition day and alliances were beginning to take notice of its scoring capability.  The team worked tirelessly to keep up with the continuous damage repairs and ended the second day of competition with a 5-1 record and ranking them 13 in their division.  The ranking meant they would need to be chosen for an alliance by a higher seeded team if they were to advance to the elimination rounds, but the team was confident as they were ranked 2nd for offensive play in the division and they were not disappointed.

During the alliance announcement and award ceremony, not only was the team the first choice of the number 4 seed for an alliance, but they also won the prestigious Autonomous Award for outstanding and reliable performance.  Clearly, they had engineered a robot that had gained a following among their peers. “Watching my students effectively communicate with their alliance partners to achieve a goal is professional training. These students are collaborating with their future peers in Engineering. This experience will follow them in life. Friends are made, common stories developed and this intense experience will be recalled with their future co-workers” said Mr. Rola.

The Tech Heads won the quarterfinal matches in 3 hard fought games. The opposing alliance consisted of team 7498 from Auckland, New Zealand, 6364 from British Columbia, Canada and team 359 from Waialua, Hawaii. Once again the defense being played against the Tech Heads remained intense and the team managed to keep the robot functional. They went on to win the semifinal matches in 2 games against team 4336 from Lafayette, Louisiana, team 6803 from Shanghai, China and team 2642 of Greenville, North Carolina. After semifinal matches, the defensive damage to the robot was beginning to affect its performance.

The Tech Heads did everything possible in the limited time to prepare for the division finals. When the starting whistle blew, the first match began with the autonomous period. The robot was on track to score one of two game pieces as it had done consistently throughout the tournament.\, but suddenly lost communication with the field and toppled over where it remained for the rest of the match.  The 2 remaining alliance partners did their best to salvage the game but to no avail.  The second match began and the robot ran a flawless auto routine and scoring was looking good until suddenly alliance partner, team 3737 from Goldsboro, North Carolina stopped and never regained functionality. The Tech Heads season ended with a 3-2 loss.

“No regrets,” said Mr. Rola, “we did everything possible to compete with the best in the world. I could not be more proud of my students. What an amazing accomplishment. What an amazing life experience”.

Ben Pitman (senior), Team Captain and Lead Technician and was very instrumental in the maintenance of the robot and communication with the judges at the tournament. Ben developed many CAD designs and drawings for the fabrication of the robot and was the prototype programming lead.

The Pit Crew members were Desean Reese, Garrett Martin, Sam Re (seniors) and performed various duties during the build season, from parts fabrication to building the practice field,  to maintaining the robot at the competition.

Anthony Smith (senior) was the Lead Strategist. He researched teams, supplied scouting data and developed game strategy. Anthony was responsible for many design concepts on the robot and was a leader in the practice field build.

Ryan Johnson (senior) was the CAD Lead. Ryan worked on the design drawings for the fabricators and machinist. Ryan was also the Safety Captain at the competition. Ryan ensured the hurried and frantic repairs were performed safely.

The Drive Team consisted of Primary Driver Esther Warren (junior). Esther drove the robot at the competition and spent countless hours practicing her skill. Esther was also responsible for the construction of the elevator mechanism on the robot, machining various parts and assembly. Our Secondary Driver was Yoseph Wassie (senior), who also served as our primary carpenter. Yoseph and Anthony Smith logged countless hours building the practice field.

Brandon Enlow (senior) was the team’s Lead Machinist. Branson machined every part the CAD team developed and also served as the robot manipulator. He worked the robot drivers to score the game pieces and protect the robot from the defense on the field.

Anthony Moore (junior) worked as the Secondary Manipulator and will be a member of the future Drive team of the Tech Heads. Annabelle Wenzel (junior) was the team human player. She was responsible for feeding game pieces to the field during competition and worked with Esther Warren on the fabrication and assembly of the elevator mechanism on the robot.

All of our Electrical Engineering & Robotics students contributed greatly to this project and can be proud of their work and accomplishment.  To learn more about this program or to apply for Fall 2019, please visit

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