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St. Helena students win third-place award in Google robotics competition

Five students from Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School recently participated in a Google-sponsored Girl Power robotics workshop in Sunnyvale. The are, Morgan Cuddy, from left, Emily Glakeler, Anna Harrington, Gemma Hanna and Serena Pitts. In the fall, Morgan and Anna are entering the eighth grade, and Emily, Gemma, and Serena will be seventh graders.

I recently attended a Girl Powered robotics workshop hosted by Google in Sunnyvale, with four other RLS students: Morgan Cuddy, Emily Glakeler, Gemma Hanna and Serena Pitts.

Approximately 625 girls from all over the Bay Area came to the workshop to listen to speakers, build and program a robot with their teammates, and then compete in the Vex Championship game. Although none of us had ever done anything like this before, we advanced to the final battle round and came in third place in a field of 102 teams.

The workshop began on Saturday with a presentation in the Google Event Center by successful women in engineering, who talked about how important it is to have more diversity in engineering. Then a couple of robotics teams played a game with their own robots to show us what we would be doing.

After the demonstration, we found our table with the items we needed to build a robot and, luckily, an instruction manual. We instantly started building. During lunch, we took a class on artificial intelligence. We finished building and programming the robot after lunch and took it out for a test drive. After making some adjustments to the program and the speed of the robot, we were done for the day.

On Sunday we all arrived wearing our Google protective glasses and purple Girl Powered T-shirts, prepared for the battle. We sat in the Google Event Center and learned about how to program the robot for the automated phase of the competition, which we had completely forgotten about. We met up at our workstation and made a plan. Emily and Gemma went to test drive the robot, named R2D3 by Gemma, to see if the codes were working while Morgan and I programmed the robot to navigate the course independently. With only two hours to work before the qualifying rounds began, we struggled to finish the coding. We hit a lot of bumps in the road and didn’t have enough time to test our automated programming on the course.

We went into the first qualifying round thinking we were going to fail. Emily Glakeler volunteered to drive our robot that round. Our robot’s wheel got stuck in the goal and Emily couldn’t get it out. Although we lost, we then realized the competition was only for fun and who cares if we win or not, and we went into the next qualifying round with that attitude.

Morgan Cuddy was driving this round. The wheel got stuck again, but Morgan was able to get it out. Our robot moved three blocks into our goal, and our allies, the team we worked with, got four. Together we scored seven points, enough to beat the other two teams. Serena Pitts drove in the final qualifying round and we won again! We didn’t believe there was any possible way for us to qualify to advance to the next round, but we did.

Morgan Cuddy, the best driver on the team, became our designated driver from then on. With Morgan driving and the four of us cheering her on, our team got four blocks in the goal! Our allies got two in the goal and one in the tower, earning us a score of 10, and we advanced to the semifinals for our division. We used the same strategy and won a place in the division finals. Whoever won the next game would play against the other two division finalists in the Google event center in front of fellow students, Google employees, and the mayor of Sunnyvale. Getting better in every round, Morgan used the same strategy and we won, moving us into the Division Round Robin.

We returned to the Google event center and prepared to battle in front of an audience of around 1,000 people. Google provided camera men who filmed us and projected the action on a ginormous jumbotron so people could see what was going on.

In the Round Robin, we won the automated period, earning an extra 6 points. Our opponents had put blocks in almost every tower, but Morgan took over and controlled the robot like a professional. She managed to stack many blocks in our goal, but sadly it wasn’t enough; the final score was 17-16, and we lost by just one point. Although it was disappointing to lose this final battle, we were happy that we had made it that far and had beaten 100 teams.

At the beginning of the competition, our allies asked us, “What’s your strategy?” We didn’t really know, but later we realized that our strategy was to have fun. Even though we didn’t end up in the first place, we all won Google Home Minis and the pride of coming that far.

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