The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Wilcox Robopocalypse Team Kept Its Eyes on the Robotics Prize Despite Challenges

Last month, the Wilcox Robopocalypse robotics team hit the ball out of the park when it added two international prizes to its already impressive record of regional and state championships.

Demonstrating its prowess in robotics design, programming, and teamwork, Robopocalypse took home a THINK and Inspire prizes in the World Championship FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition held annually in Houston, Texas.

Just being invited to the competition puts a team in the international top 3%, according to Wilcox math teacher and Santa Clara City Council Member Karen Hardy, who, with Council Member Suds Jain, is a longtime advisor to Robopocalypse. Winning a prize puts the team among the top 1% in the world.


Last year, Robopocalypse came close to making the championship, and the 11 seniors on the team vowed they would make it this — their graduation — year.

The road to the trophy was a competition in itself, even after winning regional championships.

“There are over 7,900 registered teams all over the world,” said Hardy. “And only 224 of those teams get invited to the World Championship. In the regionals, we came in overall in fifth place. They had told us only four teams are going to the World Championship and we came in fifth place.

“There was much unhappiness, much sadness,” she continued. “But I told them, ‘You just never know. Do not tear anything apart; do not do anything to the robot. Just hang on.”

Hardy’s advice was prescient.

An international FIRST board member and advisor for the Innovators’ league challenged the limitation to four regional teams: the previous year five teams had gone to the international competition. He won the point, and in early March — two weeks after other teams had been advised of their places in the competition — Robopocalypse was told the team had about a month to prepare for the Houston competition.

“I had to scramble like a crazy person to make all the arrangements to get 15 kids and three chaperones to Houston,” said Hardy.

Because California public schools can’t charge for extra-curricular activities, sponsors had to be found to finance the trip.

“We’re a public school and this is an after school program, so we’re not allowed to charge the kids anything,” explained Hardy. “We have to do all the fundraising. Parents can donate, but we can’t require it.”

The team raised $20,000 from sponsors — including Santa Clara Rotary, Santa Clara Schools Foundation, KLA, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, O2Micro and TMK — and parent donors, while Hardy and Jain paid their own expenses. The trip ended up costing $31,000, so the fundraising effort continues, Hardy reports.

The competition isn’t simply about who can build the best robot. The category in which Robopocalypse took third prize, THINK, recognizes something beyond engineering prowess: teamwork, creativity and community engagement.

The winning project was a simple, inexpensive robotics kit that could be used for teaching robotics, explained Hardy.

“These are little kits — little tiny robots, five inches by four inches — and the kids designed it themselves. They wrote a grant request, printed out the parts on a 3-D printer, and purchased a few off-the-shelf parts. We took them to middle schools, where those students could run and program them. It’s a way for students to have a hands on robotics experience with something that’s not expensive.

“The judges were very impressed with the idea and how well the kids had executed the project,” she said.

So, what’s next for these winners? Of course, they’re going to start reaching for another international win next year. But in the meantime, Hardy says, it’s Spring cleaning time.

“We were so focused on getting to Houston,” she explained, that “in our work room, entropy ruled. So we are cleaning the room, and organizing and labeling everything so we can be ready for next year.”

In September, Robopocalypse will be among the champions celebrated in Santa Clara’s annual Parade of Champions.

If you’re interested in supporting the Robopocalypse, you can send donations to: Wilcox Robotics, 3250 Monroe St., Santa Clara 95051; or email

For more on Robopocalypse:
Wilcox Robotics Team Undefeated in NASA Qualifier Tournament
Wilcox Robotics Team Contends in National Robotics Competition


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


You may like