FIRST Robotics Competition has kicked off, BHS robotics team shoots for first place

Viking Robotics, Ballard High School’s fast-growing robot-sports team, is back for season four as they compete at FIRST Robotics Competition, Rebound Rumble this weekend. The BNT caught up with the students as they prepared for the competition last week.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a program designed to inspire students to continue and pursue careers in science and technology. Creating fun events and afterschool activities catered to learning, FIRST provides fun and interactive ways to get students involved in these fields.

Joseph Kaiser has been a part of Viking Robotics since his freshman year. Now a senior and the lead programmer of the team, he feels he has learned a great deal from the FIRST program.

“It really does teach a lot of real-life experience,” Kaiser said. “I know kids that have come into the program and they’re really shy and have blossomed into this. can give public speeches now and it’s an amazing program.”

In its four years running, Viking Robotics has doubled in members every year. Starting with less than 10 students the first year, it now boasts over 40 members. Though the team is much bigger than before, each person still gets to assist with the final product whether it’s building the actual machine or programming what it needs to do.

Kaiser led 10 new programmers this year, teaching them the programming language and sectioning off different parts of the job to give everyone a chance to participate.

“I love the interactions,” he said. “I love working with a group of people and really working together to achieve a goal. I like how everyone comes together.”

Rebound Rumble, which takes place March 22-24 at Qwest Field, asks contenders to build a robot that will shoot 18 basketballs into three hoops of varying heights. Now that the competition is in postseason, Viking Robotics has been working on their practice robot, tinkering and adjusting to perfect their shooting arm.

The team spends about twelve hours a week during the postseason working on their robot. But during the six-and-a-half week build season, students are known to put in 30-plus hours in the shop to ready their machine.

“It’s not mandatory for people to come,” said Prakash Patel, president of Viking Robotics. “But we see people come here every single day.”

Patel, now in his second year as part of the club, has learned more about himself and what he wants to be in the future, now aspiring to become a structural civil engineer.

“At first when I joined the club, I did not like it because I didn’t know anything about robotics,” Patel said. “But as soon as I started to come every single day and started to feel what goes on in the club, I started to get used to it and found my place in the shop. I’m a shop person.”

Craig Nielsen, the coach and mentor of Viking Robotics, is thrilled with the performance of his team. The growth he’s noticed in the club and its members pushes the potential of how strong the program can be.

“We’re out in the community all the time explaining FIRST, showing our gracious professionalism.” Nielsen said. “My kids are always very, very mature. They present themselves very well because it’s just what FIRST does for them.”

With the high price of just entering the contest, students must approach companies such as Boeing and GM Nameplate for sponsorships. They also have to apply for grants, ask for donations and even coordinate bake sales, giving them hands-on experiences of working in the real world.

“They really mature,” Nielsen said. “You can see when we’re doing a presentation or touring the industry, they’re just very, very professional, very mature. It’s never something I have to worry about. They’re very respectful and it’s all because of FIRST.”

As the postseason nears its end, everyone is working on last-minute fixes and hopes to place higher than previous years. But Nielsen isn’t too worried. He knows his team has only improved since the beginning and each member has demonstrated stronger leadership skills. He says people are starting to recognize Viking Robotics and not just by their name and face, but their talent.

“I think it’s been going quite well,” Nielsen said. “When we had to bag it, it was working. It did every function and I guess that’s all you can ask for.”

FIRST Robotics Competition kicked off at CenturyLink Field Event Center this morning with testing and inspection rounds. Starting tomorrow students will be playing 3-on-3 basketball with robots they built in just six weeks. The competition will take place from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday atthe CenturyLink Field Event Center, 800 Occidental Ave S.

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