By Shannon Mann
G-Force Robotics, a FIRST Robotics Competition team based in Clayton, NC, qualified this weekend to advance to the world championship tournament held in Houston, Texas, April 19-22,2023.
The rookie, all-girl robotics team formed early last summer with 11 high school girls representing public, charter and home school communities. The team spent their first few months learning about the competition, building their knowledge of tools and engineering principles, and volunteering in their communities.
“Women are underrepresented in engineering and technology fields,” said Kaitlyn Nolte, one of the founders of G-Force Robotics and a 10th grader at the Johnston County Early College Academy. “We formed this team to help inspire and encourage girls in these fields. I’m really proud of what we have done.”
The team built their first robot last fall to compete in an off-season competition in Cary, N.C. which they won in conjunction with two teams from Chapel Hill.
“Our first robot gave us a chance to learn about tools and electrical wiring and how to prototype,” said Sloan Mann, another founder of the team and a 9th grader at Clayton High School. “Our first robot had a mechanism built out of wood. That’s not something we wanted to stick with, but it was good chance to learn what worked and what didn’t before we started our official competition season.”
Leigh Dement, their head coach and a chemist at Focal Medical said that while most rookie teams form in the fall, they do not have the opportunity to learn or prepare for competition until they receive robot materials in January at the kick-off event.
In early January, the members of G-Force Robotics, along with nearly 3,400 other teams across the globe, learned what the 2023 game challenge would look like and received their kit of parts to help build that season’s robot. Each year, teams are given roughly eight to nine weeks to research, design, prototype, build and test a robot from scratch based on that year’s particular game challenges. Some years robots are required to launch frisbees, shoot basketballs or climb monkey bars. This year the challenge required robots to pick up cubes and cones and place them at various heights to score points, along with being able to balance on a large teeter-totter like device. The girls knew that programming would be a critical part of the team’s game strategy this year.
“We went into this season determined to have an autonomously balancing robot,” said Allison Vanater, an 11th grader in the Johnston County Early College Academy STEM program and programmer on G-Force Robotics. “In order to program the robot to do this by itself without a human controlling it we learned about using PID systems and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) – all as rookie programmers. It was a challenging process that took many extra hours outside of build time, but the extra work was worth it.”
In fact, during their first district competition their robot, WASP, named in honor of Women Airforce Service Pilots, was the highest scoring robot in autonomous mode against 32 other teams.
The team learned valuable skills in engineering and design from engineers and STEM professionaking with Caterpillar, Schneider Electric, NovoNordisk, Siemens, Focal Medical, and Sinnovatek.
“They don’t do it for us, but they teach us the principles – things we don’t know,” said Mann. “They help us think about the process or encourage us to research things that we haven’t learned about in school or on a job because we aren’t old enough yet to have this knowledge or experience.”
After two district competitions in March, G-Force Robotics racked up a variety of rookie and engineering awards to include being named the Highest Rookie Seed at both of their competitions and winning an Industrial Design Award by General Motors for a robot that combined form, function and aesthetics. Their Rookie All-Star win at their first district event qualified them automatically for the state competition, but what was more impressive was that after five district competitions were played, the team ranked 6th out of 73 teams across the state qualifying them again to advance to the next level.
Dement said there are awards created specifically for rookies because they aren’t expected to perform at the same level as veteran teams. “Rookies don’t usually build beyond the base chassis or pursue an original design, the fact that these young women achieved an Industrial Design Award shows how they researched and developed their own ideas that ultimately helped propel them to the next level.”
With the goal of being named the FIRST North Carolina State Championship Rookie All-Star, an automatic qualifier for world competition, the team focused their two weeks between district and state competitions on how to showcase their year of learning, growth and outreach to judges who would be considering other rookie teams from across the state for this prestigious award.
On April 1-2, 2023, G-Force Robotics competed with their robot at East Carolina University with the best 40 ranked teams in the state.
While their robot didn’t perform to the same level it had at the district competitions, the team still finished with a state ranking of 20 out of 73 teams making them the highest ranked rookie team in the state out of 11 other rookies. In addition, they achieved their goal of being named the state’s Rookie All Star and automatically qualifying for the FIRST Robotics World Championship in Houston, Texas. In just a few weeks they will compete with 600 teams from 26 countries to include Australia, Israel, Brazil, Canada and Turkey. The team will vie to be named FIRST Robotics Championship Division Rookie All Star.
“I’ve been in robotics for four years and I’ve always had this as a goal,” said Nolte. “I’m so excited to go with this team to the world competition and represent the town of Clayton and all our sponsors and schools. I cannot wait to compete at this level.”
LOVE TO SEE IT!! Keep going GIRLS!!! Congrats so far!
Congratulations to the team! Best wishes for their next competition.
Pleasantly surprised and proud to read about my second cousin, Alison, competing along side her teammates in such a worthy endeavor and especially to see they are advancing to Houston. Go team!
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