Members of Thunder Mountain High School’s four robotics teams stand with four robots. (Courtesy Photo / Carol May)

Members of Thunder Mountain High School’s four robotics teams stand with four robots. (Courtesy Photo / Carol May)

Wired to win:Robotics teams earn awards in state contest

TMHS team took top honors but weren’t the only winners.

Hailee Cunningham had a goal heading into the robotics season. And it was a big one.

The Thunder Mountain High School junior and member of the Chain Reaction robotics team wanted her team to win the top award in the Alaska State Robotics Competition.

“This year, I was like, I’m going to go all the way,” Cunningham said in a Zoom interview that included other robotics students and coaches. “I really, really tried to push my whole team. That was a huge goal.”

Cunningham and her teammates were recently able to accomplish that goal. Chain Reaction earned the Inspire Award on April 17, claiming the top spot in a field of 27 teams. The team, one of four TMHS robotics teams, includes captains Keelan Cunningham and John Barnhill, both seniors; senior Remi Wiley; freshman Areo Meoli; junior Corrine Rather; and freshman Connor Greene.

TMHS robotics team chain reaction pose together. The team, which consists of Keelan Cunningham and John Barnhill, both seniors; senior Remi Wiley; junior Hailee Cunningham; freshman Areo Meoli; junior Corrine Rather; and freshman Connor Greene; recently took top honors in the state robotics competition. (Courtesy Photo / Carol May)

TMHS robotics team chain reaction pose together. The team, which consists of Keelan Cunningham and John Barnhill, both seniors; senior Remi Wiley; junior Hailee Cunningham; freshman Areo Meoli; junior Corrine Rather; and freshman Connor Greene; recently took top honors in the state robotics competition. (Courtesy Photo / Carol May)

Keelan Cunningham said that heading into the competition, which challenged teams to design a robot capable of firing rings and knocking down towers, was a fully functioning pivot design.

“We used that to a pretty decent extent throughout the competition,” Keelan Cunninham said.

Wiley said the robot used a camera and software to sense a picture near the goal. A recursive algorithm helped the robot determine the angle and power needed to shoot a projectile through a hoop, Wiley said.

By winning the Inspire Award, Chain Reaction qualifies them for national/world championships.

However, in light of the ongoing pandemic, it is unclear when, where or even if the next level of competition will take place.

Chain Reaction wasn’t the only Juneau high school robotics team to earn awards in the competition.

Genetic Advantage, also a TMHS team, was awarded the Motivate Award. The award recognizes outreach efforts. Team member Grace Stewart mentored local Girl Scouts, and said the team held multiple outreach events.

TMHS robotics team Genetic Advantage pose with a robot and team mascot Jacque Linguini. (Courtesy Photo / Carol May)

TMHS robotics team Genetic Advantage pose with a robot and team mascot Jacque Linguini. (Courtesy Photo / Carol May)

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s team B.I.G. earned the Collins Aerospace Innovate Award, which recognizes creativity and inventiveness.

“We just put as much as we could toward developing our program this year,” said B.I.G. team member Adrian Whitney in a Zoom interview.

[Meet the high schoolers competing for best robot]

All students and coaches interviewed said that this year’s competition was a departure from past competitions. In light of the pandemic, teams did not meet at a central, spectator-filled location.

“It was a singular mat in a cramped, small space,” Whitney said. “No other mats, no other teams.”

However, members of Juneau’s award-winning robotics teams are already looking ahead to the next season —especially in light of rosters that include some particularly quick learners.

This past season was a first for Stewart, who moved to Juneau from Metlakatla. It was also a first robotics season for Bjorn St. Clair, a team member of B.I.G.

“I cannot say how smart and talented and good he’s gotten,” Whitney said.

Both schools’ robotics programs hope to add similar minds to their ranks next season. Both programs intend to start up again in September.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

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