Striking Vikings ready to kickoff robotics season

Photo by Alex Dominguez

Photo by Alex Dominguez

DOWNEY – The Downey High School Striking Vikings are in the home stretch before kicking off their robotics season next week, hoping to improve on their already successful career.

This is the fifth year that Downey has participated in the First Robotics competition, which challenges school groups to build, program and drive their own robot in competitive games.

This year, the Vikings and their bot will be tasked with placing disks and inserting balls into a slotted container before their opponents.

According to senior Izzy Morales, 18, the team had a limited time to design and build their robot. Once completed, the focus then turned to making sure their robot would operate at optimum success when it mattered.

“We had six weeks to build [our robot]; we finished building around week four,” said Morales. “Now all we’re doing is troubleshooting it, seeing what we can fix, seeing if anything is going to fall apart, building spare parts, things like that.

“Our drivers upstairs are practicing getting the feel of it, so when competition comes, we’ll know how to handle it.”

Build and preparation can easily overtake much of the team’s free time.

Senior Malena Merlos, 17, says that overnighters are often times the norm.

“It can be really difficult and stressful, definitely, but it’s all worth it in the end,” said Merlos. “It’s all very hectic. We have our kickoff day, that’s when we have the game given to us…it takes a lot of teamwork, and if we don’t have that it’s obviously not going to work.”

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Upon receiving the information for this year’s game, each student brought in their own design and idea. The final result was a hodgepodge of several of the best elements from each design brought together.

According to robotics teacher Glenn Yamasaki, he tries to let his students take the lead as much as possible, stepping in mostly to course correct or prevent damage of expensive equipment.

“This by far is our most technically advanced [robot],” said Yamaskai. “The kids have done a lot of machining on it, they’ve done all their welding. They’re on schedule. I have some pretty high hopes with how well they’ll be able to do at this year’s competition.”

“At these competitions you see student-built robots, and all these adult-built robots. I don’t want to be like that, I’d rather have these kids learn how to do it…I’m there all the time and I’m never going to let them go down a bad path, but it’s still their design work.”

Much of the work the students are able to do, however, is due in part to around a dozen team sponsors who provide money and / or other resources for the team’s benefit.

“The Mary Stauffer Foundation has been critical to our success; she’s been there since day one,” said Yamasaki. “John Kennedy, also Linda Kennedy who passed are huge supporters of our program. And then Kiwanis. Like I said, it’s expensive…so without these community sponsors we’d be dead in the water.”

“To give an idea of cost, that robot you’re looking at is probably right around $12 grand.”

After competing next week at the Orange County Fair Grounds, the team will prepare to head to Las Vegas. However, regardless of how they perform it is unlikely that they will attend Worlds.

“We went there our rookie year. It’s pretty expensive, and from my end I don’t think we got the cost to value benefit out of it,” said Yamasaki. “I’m not sure we’ll ever do that again, [but] I think they understand it because really…it wasn’t as fun as they might’ve hoped. It was really kind of a grueling schedule.”

While Worlds may not be focus, the team is still dedicated to the program’s growth and success. This is a mission that each of Yamasaki’s students is more than dedicated to.

“We need to be able to share what we learned with the incoming people to our program,” said Morales. “Obviously we want our program to stay open as long as possible.”

NewsAlex Dominguez