Robotics club embarks upon new year with the theme SKYSTONE


The air in the lecture room is thick with anticipation. A man pulls slips of paper out of a bin to announce the winners of the raffle.

A projector throws a countdown to the screen. It hits zero.

“Raise the volume!” is the general cry of the crowd. The video starts.

The FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC, is a robotics competition in which students ages 12 to 18 can participate. It’s a prestigious competition with levels at the county, state, national and world levels. The main goal of FTC is to provide STEM experience to students and to inspire students to pursue science and technology.

There are many different sides to the competition, from robot design and coding to teamwork and Outreach.

The FTC kickoff was hosted at NC A&T State University on Sept. 7. The kickoff had small lectures hosted by robotics coaches or accomplished FTC teams. The lectures all had different themes relating back to FTC, such as rules and regulations, the basics of programming, an introduction to drive trains and ways to do Outreach. 

However, the main point of the event is the reveal of this year’s challenge set. The reveal is said to be done worldwide, all at once.

This year’s challenge is called SKYSTONE.

“The theme is SKYSTONE, but it seems like we’re working more with Legos versus anything in the sky,” Northwest robotics club adviser Ray Alford said. “My thinking is because you can stack them on top of each other and become a skyscraper, the theme itself is what it is.” 

Many robotics clubs represent their school as an FTC team. Northwest High School is no different. The team is called Robo Vikings, which has gone to states three times out of four, and the students aim to go to the state competition a fourth time this year. 

“I think that it’s a very good thing for people to learn more about robotics and engineering in general,” junior Ruben Hamby said, the team captain for this year.

This year’s robotics club is a little bit different from the other years. Many club members have recently graduated, and rookies have stepped up to take their place. Almost all of the underclassmen club members have little to no experience in robotics. It seems to be a rebuilding year for this team.

“I’m not sure what their capabilities are yet, but that remains to be seen,” Alford said. “So as far as making it to the state, yes I would love to make it to state again, but are we going to make it there? I’m not sure yet.”

One may think that a robotics competition is all about robotics. In reality, there are many other factors to winning in FTC. Outreach is a good example. Outreach is events organized by the robotics team to promote stem and technology, build connections with engineers, promote FIRST related event, and to do community service. Other factors to winning include teamwork, the engineering notebook and gracious professionalism.

‘Gracious Professionalism’ is FTC’s main core value. There are many ways to show it, from helping out another team to just enjoying the competition. This value keeps the competition nice and friendly, despite every team’s desire to advance. 

“It’s all about giving and providing service or parts or whatever it may be, and that makes everybody so much nicer,” Alford said. “The robot competition is really fierce, and I think a lot of students think that’s what it’s all about, but it’s not. It’s all about community, helping someone out.”

The ultimate goal of FTC is to teach students about STEM, and to inspire them to pursue engineering, technology and STEM. 

“I’ve been here since my freshman year, and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t know what I know now, ” Hamby said.