Robotics Team Perserveres at State


On the weekend of Nov. 14, Hockaday’s robotics team competed in the State BEST Robotics Competition. Opposing over 50 other teams, they were judged on robot’s performance, marketing presentation, notebook, team spirit, booth presentation and interviews.

The 9-person team is relatively small, as it has always been since Hockaday first began competing in 1997 under the direction of the late Pete Lohstreter. Since then, they have made it to State several times, winning in 2008, and returning in 2012 and 2013.

Upper school engineering teacher Leon de Olivera sponsors the robotics team. He spends as many long hours working as the rest of the team does, advising them on different machines and technologies.

Seniors Gillian Meyer and Cristina Chavez serve as co-presidents of the club.

“In my four years in JETS, I’ve learned that when it comes to engineering, failure is the key to success,” Chavez said.

Many curve balls were thrown at the team and they had to be creative.

“When our claw broke three days before our regional competition, we rallied together, creating an entirely new and improved claw with time left over to practice,” Chavez said.

And despite preparing during the week in between regionals and state, there were still unexpected challenges. During the first three of their six rounds, an error occurred with the competition’s parts that rendered Hockaday’s robot unable to move. Through the quick engineering and successful driving of seniors Lydia Li, Annie Lin, Meyer and Chavez, the robot eventually worked, and the team made it to the wildcard round.

Meyer has been a robot driver since her freshman year.

“While driving is always one of the most stressful components of the competition, I also think it’s one of the most rewarding,” she said. “There’s nothing quite like driving a robot in competition after having spent six weeks designing and constructing it.”

The team was awarded the Judges’ Choice Award for its performance under extenuating circumstances and its ability to succeed. To some in JETS, this represents a new beginning as the torch is passed to several underclassman, as the majority of the team is comprised of seniors.

The team collaborated with St. Mark’s students during the competition season, with Hockaday borrowing their playing field and the Marksmen using the Hockaday laser-cutter. That working relationship will continue as the two teams will join forces for First Tech Challenge. Unlike BEST, FTC is a more programming-heavy robotics competition and is more tournament-style.

President of FTC senior Alexandra Randolph believes FTC represents a new opportunity for prospective engineers.

Randolph said, “It’s a really great opportunity to learn and refine programming skills, while still getting the problem-solving challenge of a robotics competition.”