MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — The campus of Middle Tennessee State University is usually full of college students, but this weekend, 20 different middle and high schools took over a building for the Tennessee FIRST Robotics Competition.
All of the competitors may be students, but at times they sounded more like a parent. "We’re proud of her, whatever happens today," said Annie Boyd, a student at St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville. "She’s like our child, she performs a lot better when she has a name, she didn’t like her last name."
In a way, they are parents. Each team spends months designing and re-designing their robot. "We’ve seen her from being just one part to this whole robot. We’ve known her through her whole life," said Boyd.
"Try to build that and see if it actually works, and if it doesn’t work, you have to scrap the idea and move onto another one, and we keep doing that until we find a good one," said Jameson Nguyen, a student at Hillwood High School.
The St. Cecilia Academy students even gave their robot a name, and a personality. "Her name is Rita," said Madden Hansen, another student. "Well we have to be positive around her or else we’ll jinx it," said Boyd.
As you might expect, teams came from as far as Boston, Massachusetts to compete against each other, but what makes this competition unique is that they're also randomly assigned to compete alongside each other.
For one round, St. Cecilia drew friends from across town at Hillwood High to team up with. Their robot, Valkyrie, was put together with care, attention and a lot of duct tape. "That’s not going to die, right? That’s fine," asked Nguyen, moments before the round began.
For this round, the St. Cecilia and Hillwood team had to pick up objects with their robot faster than the opposing team. "Lower it and then grab it, I think it’s in there," Nyguyen told his teammate, Evan Lowrie.
While there was technically a final score, the real point of the competition was to test skills like communication and teamwork. "Everybody has their input where it is needed, everybody knows where our strong points is, we all know where our weak points are," said Alescia Reese, another member of the Hillwood crew.
Those are the kind of lessons that are good for all of us, no matter your age. "Even though this is still a plastic water bottle and a bunch of mismatched pieces, it’s still really cool to see it actually working picking up the cube," said Nguyen.
This is the first year of the Tennessee FIRST competition since the pandemic began.