Dragons earn quarterfinal finish at FIRST Robotics Competition

Tech Valley High School is proud to announce that the Dragons made it to the quarterfinals in just their second year of competing in the regional FIRST Robotics Competition held March 17-18 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. FIRST challenges teams to build and program industrial-sized robots in just six weeks to play a difficult field game against rotating alliances.

The team had to excel through 12 qualifying rounds to make it to the quarterfinals. Only 24 of the 36 teams in the competition made it to that stage of the event. The team was eliminated after the last quarterfinal round due to technical difficulties on an alliance member’s robot, but it represented a strong finish for a final ranking of 18 out of 36 teams.

At the height of its success, the team was ranked second. Other impressive statistics show the Dragons’ bot was a top three climber, and a top six gear bot.

Video: Tech Valley High School Dragons compete on the blue alliance during a qualifying match at the NY Tech Valley Regional FIRST Robotics Competition on March 17. The alliance was able to load 13 gears onto its airship during this match, which is considered an impressive feat. The Dragons’ robot was also able to “climb” onto the airship, leading its alliance to victory.

Team mentor and Tech Valley High teacher John Hartnett said the team and its strong-performing bot turned heads and made an impression on the more seasoned competition. That was apparent after the the Dragons were picked to join a top-seeded alliance for the quarterfinals. The alliances for the qualifying rounds are determined at random, but top teams choose their alliances for the quarterfinals. 

“It’s great that we made it to the quarterfinals, but the part that is impressive is we were picked third for alliance selection,” Hartnett said. “Other teams were ranked higher but they reached down and put us on a decent alliance.”

“I expected we would get picked, but I didn’t think we were going to get picked that soon. I think they picked us because we didn’t fail, we were consistent and did what we were supposed to do to get points,” junior Axton Pulliam of Berne-Knox-Westerlo said. He was a member of the “driving team” that operates the robot on the court. “It was a nice feeling because we are only a second year team and we put so much time and effort into preparing for the competition.”

This year’s event theme was Steamworks, described by FIRST as a game “that invites two adventure clubs from an era in which technology relied on steam power to prepare their airships for the ultimate long distance race.” Students had to program their robots to perform both autonomous and remote-controlled tasks on the airship, such as loading gears, collecting and launching balls, and having the robot pick itself up and “climb” on a rope.

For TVHS students, the six week time limit for the build was intensified by a weeklong winter break and an annual two-week internship project called I-Term, which places students off-site to do field work at area businesses. 

The team also overcame challenges that are unique to Tech Valley High, a regional public high school that draws students from seven counties. Students commute to the Tech Valley campus from districts all over the region, so it took incredible dedication and support to finish the competition robot ー plus a second robot to practice with ー after school and on weekends. Tech Valley High is also a small school with a student body of 130. Some of the competing schools had nearly as many robotics team members as Tech Valley High has students.

The robotics team is made up of 27 students. Team mentors are Hartnett and Varada Pandya-Vaughan with Brian Rozmierski, father of TVHS alum Tim Rozmierski.

Students are nominated by their coaches to recognize leadership and determination. Congratulations, Axton and Chris!

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