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VIDEO: Fauquier students go to World Robotics Championship

Monday, Mar. 31 | By Hannah Dellinger
Jonah Snyth assists Caleb Snyth in attaching "grip" onto their robot's arm to allow it to scoop during challenges.
Photo by Ian Chini
When Caleb Snyth, Jonah Snyth and Devin Jewell found out about a robotics merit badge from their Boy Scouts troop, they knew that it was something that they wanted to obtain.

The three boys sought out a way to get the badge and found the Culpepper Robotics Team two years ago. The team was just starting out, and was open to public, private or home-schooled students from surrounding counties. The three Fauquier boys joined the varsity team and have had great success. This year they will go the VEX World Robotics Championship in Anaheim, Calif. on April 23 to compete against over 400 other teams from around the world.

“When we qualified to Worlds I was really surprised and really happy,” said Jewell, who is a home-schooled sophomore from Opal. “It was ridiculous, because we didn’t even think that we’d make it to state this year. It was pretty awesome.”

The team went to five regional competitions in Northern Virginia and from there, qualified for the state tournament. By making it to the semifinal round at state, the team made the cut for the World Championship.

The challenge that each team will face at worlds entails a game with various obstacles. How the robot handles the challenge will be judged and ranked among the other teams.

“You have three different zones, and each zone has a different point value for different sized balls,” said Jewell. “There are a couple of obstacles. You have to get under a 12-inch bar, over a two-inch bump, and score in a two-foot high cylinder. An optional challenge is hanging on a three-foot high bar and your robot has to pull itself up on the bar.”

Jewell said that building a robot that can function and complete all of the challenges is extremely difficult to design.

“It was a lot of work,” said Caleb, who is a sophomore at Liberty High School. “We changed our robot a lot.”

Caleb said that the team went through three prototypes until they found one that worked consistently. He said that it took about three weeks from conception to finalizing the programing to build each robot.
While the team does have mentors, the team members do all of the work on their own and learn a lot of the nuts and bolts of engineering on their own.

“We started with our coaches teaching us the basics,” said Jonah, who is a senior at LHS and Caleb’s brother. “After we took the robot home and rebuilt it, even though our coaches told us not to, we developed our own design and they let us do our own thing.”

Doug Ray is a senior mentor for the team. He said that the private non-profit allows the students to explore their future career paths and learn independently.

“We teach them the basics,” said Ray. “Anything from system engineering, to how to design and work as a team to the basics of mechanics and programing. We’re just here to be a sounding board to help when they get stuck in a couple of places and to give them ideas. They basically design this whole thing on their own and figure out the strategy behind it.”

Ray said that the team began three years ago when a couple of Culpeper students showed an interest. The program has about 30 students from fourth grade to 12th grade.

“This whole program has been a huge success,” said Ray. “The community support for it is growing larger and larger. We’re actually working to have a state qualifying tournament in Culpeper next year.”
Ray said that thanks to the program, one student received a scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University and another student will be going to Virginia Tech to study electrical engineering because of what he learned on the team encouraged him into the field.

“This is a great launching program for kids to get into the technical world,” said Ray. “They get to understand what it’s about before getting into their careers and they get excited about it.”

Ray enjoys working with the students, because he gets to see the excitement and energy that they have for building the robots.

“These are bright young kids,” said Ray. “Their energy, their tenacity to solve the problems and their ingenuity just surprises me all the time. It’s fun to see their excitement, to watch them program and not want to leave until it’s done. This is great for the kids and it’s fun to watch.”

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