Oquirrh Hills Middle School robotics teams represent district, school by placing top 10 in the stateMay 08, 2023 12:30PM ● By Morgan Olsen
Members of the OHMS Baconators robotics team work on their robot at competition. (Pinyi Yao/Oquirrh Hills Middle School)
The Oquirrh Hills Middle School robotics teams have been working hard this school year building robots and competing in qualifying rounds in order to compete in the state robotics competition. During a qualifying competition in March, both teams officially qualified to compete in the state competition that took place at Southern Utah University.
“Competing in the qualifiers and making it to the state competition was a huge accomplishment,” said one student, Jonathan. “Especially since we are a middle school team and the only team in the district.”
The teams are coached by Pinyi Yao, who is currently in his second year as their head coach. The teams, named the OHMS Baconators and the OHMS Velocity Raptors, respectively, have been preparing for the competitions since this year’s theme was announced in September 2022.
“Typically the competition is announced at the end of September for the new school year,” Yao said. “The qualifiers happen in December, February and March. We qualified at the March competition, which was one week before the state championship.”
Preparing for the qualifying rounds and state competitions is time-consuming and requires students to work together to reach the goal outlined in competition rules.
“This year’s competition was called Power Play Energize,” said ninth grader and team captain Liam. “The goal was to place a cone on poles of varying heights using different methods. We all come up with different ways to do that and are judged on how well our robots perform that task at competition. For example, one of our teams used the claw method to complete the task.”
The two OHMS robotics teams finished ninth and 22nd out of 36 teams in the state competition, respectively. Their success at the competition came with challenges that taught the students lessons they say they will use to improve their robots for future competitions.
“Our team had a lot of challenges,” said ninth grader and team captain Ryder. “This is our first time we’ve tried object recognition and going that deep was hard. AI is not as easy as it sounds, but it has been our biggest accomplishment this year. In past years we never focused on self-driving or anything like that. This year we decided that, since the competition revolves around self-driving, we would implement that. Deciding to implement that in the competition was a huge milestone. I think next year we’ll use that experience to make even better robots.”
Another challenge the team faced is the lack of funding. Many other teams in the state have a bigger budget to supply materials and entry fees, but the OHMS team has struggled to receive the funding needed to have those supplies paid for, making their success at the state competition even more impressive.
“We don’t have funding,” said team member Kendrick. “Other teams buy their own parts, but we made our own parts for half the cost and still had the same performance. We had challenges figuring out how to do that, but we learned a lot in the process.”
The team also received help from parents and community members who were willing to donate their time to help students learn the skills they needed to do well in the competition.
“Mr. Whiteley, one of our student’s parents, is a software engineer and knows a lot about coding,” Yao said. “He has helped us learn lots of skills relating to robotics.”
The process of designing, crafting and competing has taught the robotics students lessons they can apply outside robotics, as well.
“This is my first year on the team and so what I learned was that participation and communication is key to getting things done,” team member Ethan said. “If you just sit in the back and not do anything it doesn’t work out too well.”
Other students said they learned the importance of time management and executing a plan effectively.
“With limited time we have to manage our expectations and use our time effectively,” team captain Liam said. “Having different parts, we have to use our time wisely. Using our time effectively is something important to learn.”
Participating in robotics has taught other students the importance of being involved and doing their part to get the most out of the experience.
“I learned about participating on a team more,” team member Justin said. “I didn’t really participate much when I was in seventh grade, but once I started participating it was really fun working together.”
Working as a team was another benefit students on the robotics team have been grateful for this year.
“We really had to learn how to work as a team,” team member Kendrick said. “If our team was divided, our robot would not work very well - we wouldn’t know what to do. But once you work together and have experiences together, you are much more successful.”
Yao has enjoyed watching his team flourish this school year and loves to see them become even better students, team members and leaders through robotics.
“My favorite part of coaching these kids is seeing them learn,” Yao said. “I have some students that are growing to be leaders and it’s especially awesome to see how they grow in this middle school age. It’s fun to see them grow in life as well as in robotics. I’m really proud of them for all the hard work they’ve put in this year.” λ