Students from across Clark County traveled to Houston to compete in a worldwide robotics competition
Michael McCormic Jr.
BATTLE GROUND — The smell of axle grease, the whirring of a dozen electric motors, and the cheering from a thousand parents, friends, and classmates is enough to get any robotics team excited.
Take all of that, add it to the hot Houston, TX sun and slap a “World Championship” label on it, and you’ve got yourself a once-in-a-lifetime experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
FIRST Robotics Team 3674, or “The Cloverbots,” as they have come to call themselves, is a group of Clark County high school-age students who participate in the FIRST Robotics program by designing, building, maintaining, programming, and operating robotic machines for competitions across the United States.
David Buck has been a team mentor for the Cloverbots for over five years. His sons, Mackinnon, who graduated last year, and Everett, who will be graduating this June, have both been involved in the program.
“The organization is set up almost like a small business. There’s engineering, there’s a build team, which is manufacturing, there’s fundraising, there’s marketing, community outreach, lots of finance management, so it really gives students, regardless of their interest area, the opportunity to contribute,” Buck says.
The Cloverbots team is comprised of high school students from across Clark County. Most of the team hails from CAM Academy, with other students coming from Battle Ground High School, Prairie High School, and some are homeschooled.
While their title as division finalists is an impressive accomplishment, this accolade is the culmination of months of designing, building, and competing.
Buck explains the events leading up to the world championship.
“The season kicks off the first Saturday of January,’’ Buck said. “We’re given six weeks to create a strategy, design the robot, and build the robot. Following that, there are two district events, and, based on how well you do at those district events, you have the opportunity to advance to the Pacific Northwest District Championship.”
Of 155 teams, 64 teams qualified to advance to the district championship, and 40 of these teams were selected to go to Houston for the international championship this past April. The Cloverbots, with their 150-pound robot nicknamed “Cubert 8-bit,” were selected to lead an alliance of four teams at the World Championship. According to the Cloverbots’ press release, the team won 2-1 in the quarterfinals, then went on to win 2-0 in the semifinals, and were eliminated 1-2 in a tiebreaking match during the finals.
Anna Drygas-Miller, a member of the Cloverbots’ build team, claims that the loss was due to an issue in the robot’s battery system.
“We lost our last qualifying match because our battery cable came apart during the beginning of the match,” explains Drygas-Miller, who says that, despite the disappointing loss, “The overall competition was really great; it was a great experience to have and I’m really excited to do it again.”
Isaiah Walton, the team’s lead programmer, is a high school freshman. He claims that this year’s world championship was the best competition the Cloverbots have ever had.
“Actually, making it to the finals was a first for our team, so it’s quite crazy to get there,” says Walton.
This sentiment is echoed by Tucker Epp, one of the team’s drivers, who says the Cloverbots’ advance to the competition in Houston was surprising. “We were at district champs and we were pretty sure we were done. It was unexpected. We weren’t exactly ready for it,” Epp explains.
There may be plenty of time to celebrate the Cloverbots’ unexpected success at the world championship this year, but for the members of the team, it is also a time to look towards the future and learn from this season’s experience. According to various members of the team, future plans include faster and smarter autonomous programming for the robot, and a deep space competition theme for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
The Cloverbots high school robotics program is part of a larger 4-H program known as “Clovernauts.” Through this program, students from kindergarten to high school can learn about robotics in activities designed specifically for their respective age-group.