Hillcrest and Alta High represented Canyons School District for the very first time in the FIRST Robotics competition. The Utah Regional took place at the Maverik Center in West Valley City March 21-23.
"We kind of just all worked together to complete one goal, and I find that was really awesome to do that," said junior Manuel Weffer. "I've learned a lot about engineering, electronics and business."
During the regional competition, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert stopped by different teams' pits and chatted with the Hillcrest High students for about 15 minutes. Rep. Jim Matheson also visited Castleton's classroom.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit started in 1989 with a mission to inspire and build interest in science and technology. The organization has various competitive programs such as FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Robotics. Canyons District approached Castleton a year ago to see if he would be interested in putting a team together for FIRST Robotics.
"I said sure, if I can have a class just for robotics," he said.
The district agreed, and Hillcrest Robotics also received a start-up grant from NASA. The team started working on the FIRST Robotics project in January. For six weeks, team members designed and built the robot with the focus of teamwork.
"A lot of things fell through, and a lot of things worked the way we wanted it to," said senior Rien Reid. "We've learned a lot of new things."
Castleton said it was up to the students to use their skills, creativity and collaboration.
"I'm just kind of a mentor leading on the side," he said.
The team named the robot HARV-E, which stands for Highly Accurate Robotic Vehicle Extraordinaire, after their own mascot Harvey Husky.
The regional and world championship competitions are formatted about the same, Castleton said.
The 2013 competition is called Ultimate Ascent. The objective is for the robot to score as many points as possible by launching discs into goals in timed periods. Robots could also score by climbing pyramids, but HARV-E does not have that capability.
"Our greatest strength was defensive capabilities," Castleton said.
The team went to St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics World Championship April 24-27 and finished 38th out of the 100 teams in its division, which was one of four.
"It was amazing to compete in a competition on a scale of that size," said Matt Bennett, a senior. "It was eye-opening to see all the teams from all over the world and the methods they came up with."
Although the team did not make it to the championship round, Castleton said he was very impressed with the overall experience.
"We made some tactical mistakes that caused us a shot at the finals, but we already have ideas to make next year better," he said.
Castleton said that not only have a lot of people taken interest in the robotics program, but colleges especially pay attention to it.
"The fact that you can put this on a college résumé, that gets noticed, and this is something that's gaining respect in engineering," he said. "Somewhere around 19 percent of MIT incoming freshmen were on FIRST Robotics teams."
Senior Megan Barrett said she was uncertain at first about taking the robotics class, but after the first day, she was excited. Working on the project, she bonded with her teammates.
"Our entire team became a family," she said. "It's something I'll never forget, and I'm glad it's something I'm able to do my senior year."
Barrett said she's not just proud of the success of the team, but she hopes other students will be more aware of how much the field of science and engineering has to offer.
"It allows more people in my own school to see it's not just a program to build a robot that crashes into something or into another robot," Barrett said.
Aside from robotics, students earned business skills because they had to approach local and major companies to get sponsorship. Among many contributions, they received $3,000 from Sinclair Oil and the same amount from Comcast, which also provided an engineer to mentor the team.
"We want to build a sustainable program," Castleton said.
That means reaching out to elementary and middle-school kids and getting them interested in the robotics program.
"If we can mentor them and sponsor them, that just starts them all the sooner, and that'll be fabulous," Castleton said.
At a glance
FIRST Robotics is a competition of the nonprofit FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
The 2013 Utah Regional took place in March.
Hillcrest High competed for the first time and was honored with the Rookie All Star Award, which qualified them to go to the world championship in St. Louis, Mo.