St John’s students in National First Tech Competition

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St John’s students in National First Tech Competition

On 23rd of June, the Year 10 St. John’s Horizons team had a very early start for a long drive to Cambridge University to compete at the FIRST Tech Challenge UK National Championships.


Photo credit: FIRST UK and Black Star Photography

On paper, the competition had seemed relatively straight forward – build a robot which can drive around, pick up cones and place them on poles. In reality, it proved everything but!

Very early in the process, the team allocated themselves roles and ensured the whole process was documented. They split into three main groups:

  • Project management, Social Outreach & Fundraising: Thomas Norris, Harry Munro, Emily Mayo, Izzi Sant & James Gifford
  • Programming: Anthony Sansum, Emily Mayo, Muhammed Gul & Lewis Tearle
  • Engineering (further split into three sub-teams):
    • Drivetrain: Hendricus Brenk & Alex Sanyal
    • Intake: Hector Price, Morgan Chong & Jason Zheng
    • Lift: Sam Mortali & Tobyn McCorquodale Cruise

The students had to learn the difficulties of working in a team, and how frustrating it can be having to wait for one team to deliver something before another can start testing. They also discovered that things don’t always turn out the way you expect…

All three engineering teams had to go through multiple iterations, with complete overhauls of their ideas, before they found suitable solutions. And all that time, while the engineering teams were trying to work out how to build a functional robot, the coding team were having to write code they couldn’t test, and then change it to accommodate the new designs.

However, even with all these challenges, come competition day, we had a functional robot!

The ethos of FIRST is Gracious Professionalism. In this competition, teams form new alliances each match, come up with strategies and work together in order to maximise points. A match consists of a 30 second autonomous period, where the robot has to drive itself around a field, collecting and placing cones on stations, before parking in a designated area. Followed by a 2-minute human driver mode, where human controllers then drive the robot around the field, again placing cones on relevant stations, in order to maximise their points.

On the day, teams were split into two divisions (Raytheon and Arm) each with 20 teams. Each team would then compete in 5 alliance matches, with their scores across those matches being added together to generate an overall ranking. St. John’s did really well to place 8th in their division and make it through to the knockout round. Unfortunately, we lost out to the eventual winners of our division in the semi-finals (who went on to finish runners up in the whole competition).

Head of Computer Science at St John’s, Mr Jarvis said  “On reflection, we were really pleased with this performance. At the time it was disappointing to come so close to making the finals in our division, and then to miss out by only a few points, but in reality we were always at a disadvantage to the top teams – it was our first time entering the competition, whereas one of the teams that knocked us out are in Year 12 and had been competing together since they were in Year 9!”

Outside of the engineering and coding elements there was also a lot of work to be done on social outreach and completing the engineering journal. A number of other awards were on offer for the work done in these areas, and St. John’s finished runners up in the Connect Award, for our work in “connecting the dots between community, FIRST, and the diversity of the engineering world”. This was a really pleasing result, as a lot of work had been put into building a social media presence and introducing more students to the joys of STEM. Special mention to Emily Mayo for taking the robot out to the Aldbourne Brownies and Ramsbury Beavers to show them what STEM is all about!

The last 9 months have been a real journey of discovery for the team. They’ve all grown a lot and have developed a whole host of new skills. Some of them have already volunteered to help with recruitment and mentoring of next year’s team.

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