Robotics team advances to World Championship

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

The current members on the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team, the Powerstackers, have competed on the world stage for three years in a row.

Mason freshman Neev Gupta (front row fourth from left) eighth grader Lakshmi Avanthasa (second row sixth from left), sophomore Vishnu Avanthsa (second row seventh from left) combined with students from Sycamore, Dayton and Troy Christian Schools competed in a World Championship as a collective Robotics team. The team presented their robot and was awarded an Inspire award, the highest recognition offered to the top five overall teams. 

From April 24 to April 27, the team was one of 160–which also included Quantum Leap, another Mason team– to go to the FTC World Championship (Worlds), held in Detroit, Michigan. This is not their third appearance in the history of the team, but for the most senior members, this is their third consecutive World Championship. While not everyone was available to go, the entire team consists of junior Rayhan Nazir, sophomore Vishnu Avanthsa, sophomore Brandon Young, freshman Neev Gupta, eighth grader Lakshmi Avanthasa, and senior Kaavya Ramachandhran and many other students from Sycamore and Dayton. At the competition, the Powerstackers won the Inspire award, which was the most prestigious award, given to the top five overall teams.

Ramachandhran said the journey to worlds has lasted since the summer, as the team spend time not only building the robot, but raising money through sponsorships as well.

The Mason Robotics team, named the Powerstackers, built their own robot which they entered in the Worlds Chapionship in April. The team’s work won them an INSPIRE award, the highest award to the top five teams at the competition. 

“We’ve been preparing for this for a while, ever the since the summer,” Ramachandhran said. “We built this robot completely on our own–it’s custom manufactured almost from the ground up. We have gathered all the money by ourselves too, by finding sponsorships and all of that. That seems to be my biggest role of the team–I do some of the building and things like that, but I mostly participated in the whole design aspect and pitching our company to other people and getting their support.”

Young has been to Worlds once before and he said the months leading up to the competition were spent perfecting the performance of the robot.

“The month up to Worlds, we worked on rebuilding some parts of our robot to improve its speed and accuracy,” Young said. “Me, personally, I worked on the programming of the robot. So I worked on the code that went into having the robot’s location work throughout the match.”

This was Gupta’s first time at Worlds and he said his role consisted of preparing the team’s engineering notebook, helping to build the robot, and driving the robot at the actual competition. Gupta said it was enriching to experience every aspect of robotics.

“As (it is) my first year, I got to look at every different aspect,” Gupta said. “Since there’s a lot of things that you can do on the robotic team, I got to experience all the different parts, learn from that, and just learn from the veteran teammates.”

Gupta said his passion for robots started with Lego robotics with a FIRST LEGO League robotics team, which is a step below the FTC level.

“People think of robotics as strictly working on the robot,” Gupta said. “But it’s also about learning how to work with other people: people in businesses to get sponsorships, learning how to communicate with your team members, documenting what you learned and growing off of that is also important too.”

After being on the team for three years, Ramachandhran said that robotics has given her a strong sense of community.

“It’s a really great community just in general,” Ramachandhran said. “It could be really easy to think that robotics are for shut-ins and loners who don’t get out very much, but they’re really supportive, and there’s little to no trash talk that happenings. Everybody’s really cooperative and it’s really great to have been a part of it.”

Young said that through participating in robotics, he realized that the majority of it is based on building skills rather than simply having natural abilities.

“Not everyone in robotics is super smart,” Young said. “It’s more about learning from your mistakes, and being creative, and problem solving than just using what you already know. You get smarter from it, and a lot better of problem solving. When I started, I was not the best at building things.”

After participating in robotics for multiple years, Young has gained a passion for computer programming and hopes to take it through college.

“My entire passion for programming is robotics,” Young said. “I started programming when I was really young, like fourth grade. From that, once I started doing this robotics program, I started learning Java, which is what we use, and from it, I’ve learned the whole understanding of that whole programming language.” 

Gupta said that besides the competition itself, his favorite part of Worlds was getting to meet people around the world who share his passion for robotics.

“I think bonding as a team and just having fun,” Gupta said. “You meet people from different countries: there are people from South Korea, India, Canada, Mexico, (to name a few). It was kind of inspiring to see the different ways that people in other countries see robotics, and bond with people through robotics.”

At the Worlds competition, Ramachandhran said that there are booths set up with representatives from all over–from the Army to coveted colleges–to provide robotics students a pathway for success. The grandeur of Worlds continues to inspire Ramachandhran as they highlight the connections between students around the world who are all passionate about robotics.

“When I went last year, it was one of the best times of my high school career,” Ramachandhran said. “There was this amount of people that all do the same things we do and it was amazing. We all have the same drive, we all love to do the same thing; this is such a big part of our lives. It’s like a sports team; nobody makes movies about robotics teams, but they honestly should, because the same amount of energy and effort and time and dedication that goes into a sports team goes into this too.”

Photos contributed by Rao Avanthsa and Terence Chu.