RM Robotics team wins top qualifier at Whitman High School


Helen Qian

This past weekend at Walt Whitman High School, the RM Robotics Team competed in the qualifying round of the FIRST Tech Challenge for the Greater D.C. area. The two teams, 5421 RM’d and Dangerous and 8121 RMageddon, both qualified for States. Winning multiple awards for their efforts, the teams look to continue RM Robotics’ legacy of success.

This year’s FTC focused on relic recovery, where each team designs a robot to maneuver items called relics, glyphs, and jewels into certain patterns and positions to gain as many points as possible. According to senior Andrew Mao, the captain of Rmaggeddon, “The gist of it is like packing a bookshelf, basically.”

By the end of the all-day event, RM’d and Dangerous ranked fourth place in points and won First Inspire, the highest overall award that encompasses robot design, programming, and outreach programs. RM’d and Dangerous was also nominated for Motivate, an award for spreading STEM in the community. RMaggedon won Second Inspire and Connect, and both teams were nominated for the Think and Connect awards.

During the competition, each team formed an alliance with another team in a two vs. two match, with four robots on the field for each round. In total, each team competed in five matches.

Sophomore Katie Kolodner, a member of RM’d and Dangerous, said, “We got really lucky with the alliances that we were partnered with in the beginning because you get the most number of points not based on how many points that you win but based on how many points your opponents win. So if you have a really close opponent that has a really close number of points that your alliance does, then you’ll get more points than if you dominated them.”

Much of the teams’ success was determined by the Judge’s Awards, a separate part of the competition from the relic recovery matches. Members stood before a panel of judges and discussed their robot design, team functions, and progress over the year. One of the deciding factors of both teams’ victories was their exceptional work in Outreach, which focuses on engaging the community with STEM.

Senior Sabrina Guedes, a member of RM’d and Dangerous, said, “We work with engineers and other people and volunteer to help spread STEM education throughout our community. We volunteer and teach classes at housing opportunities commission where we work with students with low income housing who don’t have as much opportunity to get a strong STEM education.” She continued, “The work that we do to help better the community and spread STEM is extremely important when it comes to the real-world implications of what we do as a Robotics Team.”

Besides their outreach work, both teams have worked tirelessly on designing and building their robots over the past couple months. Guedes said, “The season never really ended because we kept meeting over the summer a few times and kept meeting with the seniors that graduated to transfer the authority of the team to the new leaders.” Since the first week of school, they have held two to three meetings a week at the Rockville Library.

Within each team, members are divided into three subteams, Mechanics, Programming, and Outreach. According to Mao, “You have one person from each of those teams who run a smaller division to keep the organization leadership simple. Each of the teams focuses on their own specific goals to keep things simple but in addition everyone on each subteam is expected to do some roles from other subteams.”

In addition, RM Robotics is completely student-run. Mao explained, “That might not seem like that much of a big deal, but when you’re talking about robotics teams specifically, teams that have so much complexity and tasks involved, it’s really unusual to see teams that are run by nothing more than high school children who all have their own agendas and things to do everyday. Just the fact that we can keep ourselves organized like this is pretty amazing.”

As a result, everyone on the Robotics team must put forth great amounts of dedication and time. According to sophomore Angela Mu, a member of RM’d and Dangerous, “Some people leave at 5 p.m., some at 6 p.m.. More senior members, they might leave at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. I think we cooperate with each other very well, and we’re all very dedicated and hardworking.”

In preparation for States, the teams plan to further develop their program and revise the design of their robots in hopes of qualifying for Supers and then Worlds. Kolodner said, “We’re also planning some new Outreach events to reach out more to the community and have more stuff for States because we really want to qualify to Worlds.”