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Wilcox Robotics Team Contends in National Robotics Competition

Last month, the Wilcox High School’s robotics team, Robopocalypse joined other Northern California teams competing against 71 other teams from western states in the Western U.S. robotics competition in Spokane, WA. Although the team didn’t bring home any gold medals, this is a huge accomplishment for the Santa Clara team: the first time the team has made it to the Western U.S. regional competition.

The team was started four years ago by Wilcox math and computer science teacher, Karen Hardy and me, and we continue to coach the team.

Robopocalypse competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) level of K-12 robotics. FIRST—which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology”—was started in 1989 by Segway inventor, Dean Kamen, and MIT professor, Woody Flowers, to encourage young people to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math.


There are four levels of competition in FIRST: Jr FLL (6-10 year olds), FIRST Lego League (FLL) (grades 4-8), FTC (grades 7-12) and First Robotics Competition (FRC) (grades 9-12). FLL now has over 35,000 teams and FTC has nearly 6,000 teams Worldwide. Teams can be affiliated with schools, churches, scouting groups or simply be groups of friends with a shared interest in robotics. There are over $50 million in college scholarships for students who enter STEM fields.

The Wilcox team is sponsored by two tech companies—Intuitive Surgical and Pragmatic—and the Santa Clara Rotary Club. New mentors and sponsors to cover costs of new parts and tournament registration fees are always welcome.


Cooperative Competition

Although this is a competition, FTC’s guiding principle at all times is “Gracious Professionalism.” Teams are strongly encouraged to help each another to excel. In this spirit, teams lend other teams replacement parts when things get damaged during competition matches.

FTC Teams compete on a 12’x12′ field with a robot that must fit within an 18”x18”x18” cube. Each year a new challenge is introduced in September and the teams must design and build a robot to compete by November. The regular tournament season goes until February.

This years’ challenge, “Relic Recovery” requires robots to collect and stack 6-inch foam cubes and place a plastic “relic” 3-feet outside of the 12-foot field—which means the robot has to extend beyond its original 18 inch dimensions. A tournament consists of an initial 30 second autonomous period followed by two minutes during which the robots are controlled remotely by team members using joysticks. Here’s a short video describing the challenge:

Wilcox has allocated part of a portable classroom for the team’s workshop and practice field. It’s here that the students learn how to operate drill presses, hack saws, Dremel tools, calipers, soldering stations and other tools needed to construct robots. Wilcox recently opened a Maker Space, providing students with 3-D printers and laser cutters.

Every team member has a specialty, giving students the opportunity to experience how real-world development teams operate. It’s so realistic, in fact, that one team member has the job of raising money to support the project. The team meets almost every day after school, just as sports teams do.

“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience from FTC robotics, related to teamwork,” said sophomore Shaunak Kale. “Not only has robotics helped me become a better engineer but also a better person.”

For more information about the Wilcox High School robotics team visit the team’s website: Visit for general information about the competition and for northern California information.


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