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A group of local high schoolers is out to prove that Oviedo is the center of the competitive robotics world.
Oviedo’s Uplift FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team, made up of 12 freshman, sophomores and juniors from Hagerty High School, Oviedo High School and Winter Springs High School qualified for the world championship, which takes place in Houston April 19-22.
“Oviedo is what we like to call ‘a powerhouse for robotics,’” Uplift co-lead and Hagerty junior Nathan Treibitz said. The city is close to the Central Florida Research Park, meaning many of its members’ parents are engineers and working in STEM fields. “A lot of their kids end up being interested in the same things. They end up joining teams and they’re all really smart, really talented kids.”
The team, which was recognized by the Oviedo City Council during its April 3 meeting for their recent success, was founded in 2019 and experienced immediate success, beating out 36 other teams to win the 2020 FTC Florida State Championship’s Inspire Award, which is “given to the team that best embodies the ‘challenge’ of the FIRST Tech Challenge program,” according to FIRSTInspires.org. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the world championship was canceled, leaving Uplift unable to make its first appearance.
Despite the cancellation, team members continued working together, and while they didn’t repeat their remarkable success in 2021, out of 56 teams, Uplift finished 2nd for the Inspire Award at the 2022 Florida State Championship.
“We’ve had success since the beginning,” Treibitz said. “Part of that I really credit to being a student-led, student-run team. Yes, we have [adult] mentors here to help us and guide us, but us as the kids, we’re really the ones doing all the work. We’re learning, and we know everything that’s going on, from managing our finances to building the robot, to outreach.
“All of it is done by team members,” he said.
The FTC robotics season spans August to April every year. In August, teams are given that year’s “game,” the series of tasks the robots will need to perform in competitions. This year, 192 high school teams from around the world will compete on 12’ x 12’ playing fields with robots “they have designed, programmed, and built themselves,” according to the FTC event guide. This season’s game consists of having the robots move cones around the playing field against opposing teams’ robots.
The Uplift team meets at least twice a week — this year in a unique setting.
“My lovely parents decided to allow us to steal their guest room and make it into our robotics room, where we run out of and make a robot and work on everything,” co-lead and Hagerty junior Amari Patel said at the City Council meeting.
Once Uplift received the game for this season, they went to work on developing an idea and creating sketches of it on a whiteboard, working through any potential issues before beginning to create prototypes. Using computer-aided design (CAD) software, they made a 3D-printed prototype and then a wood-cut prototype before finalizing the metal-cut design to be used in later competitions.
“We’ll go through a few iterations of that to ‘trial-and-error’ and just kind of see what works and what doesn’t,” Treibitz said. “[We’re] communicating, working together, brainstorming, coming up with the best ideas that we can.”
The development process can take up to four months before the final robot is created, and even then they will continue to make adjustments to hardware and software as the season progresses.
“It’s always about innovating, creating a better design,” Patel said.
Teams are judged on the creativity and innovation of their robots, in addition to scoring from the live competition.
Uplift’s talents impressed the Oviedo City Council.
“I’ve done robotics, and in college … and y’all have smoked my robots,” Oviedo Councilmember Natalie Teuchert said. “This is really impressive, and I know all that goes into that.
“Mad props that you have the opportunity to do this and that you’re kicking butt doing so,” she said. “Councilmember [Keith] Britton and I are engineers, and [Uplift] blew us away.”
The team needed to raise about $10,000 for the season, which it accomplished through corporate sponsorships, including $5,000 from Mitsubishi, and other donations from FedEx, IBM, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Verizon, SendCutSend and Bilda. Mitsubishi brought the team to its Central Florida offices to meet with executives and showcase their robot and its capabilities.
“That was an incredible experience, it was just really awesome,” Treibitz said. “I mean, being a 16-year-old high schooler and being able to go present to a huge company and talk to them and share with them what we’re doing was just a huge and amazing experience.”
In addition to Treibitz and Patel, the Uplift team consists of Hagerty junior Sahil Ravani, the software co-lead; Winter Springs junior Rita Joshi, who works on outreach and graphic design; Hagerty junior Noah Albano, who works on hardware; Oviedo junior Caralina Denis, who works on outreach, social media and digital design; Hagerty junior Alex Madruga, the hardware lead; Hagerty junior Ranjiv Sajay, who works on software code; Winter Springs sophomore Meghna Vikram, who has been reaching out to other world championship teams; Oviedo sophomore Harshini Thupili, who works on outreach; Winter Springs sophomore Arvid Vaidyanathan, who works on programming; and Oviedo freshman Moitri Santra, who has been working on sponsor outreach.
In addition to competitions, the Uplift members give back to the community with their robotics experience as well. They volunteer at local schools’ STEM events, helping younger robotics teams with their development, and they even adopted Chapman Road in Oviedo.
“It’s a road that I actually live on, so that’s pretty impactful toward me,” Treibitz said. “I think it’s awesome how we get to just help our community, not just in STEM, but also the environment and help clean the environment.”
The team created a GoFundMe campaign for backers to support their trip to next week’s competition. You can follow the team on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
And the prize for winning the world championship?
“Pride,” Treibitz said. “Bragging rights. [And it’s] amazing for our college applications. We definitely don’t do this for any sort of monetary prize or anything like that. We really do it because we love it.”