From left, Shoemaker High School contestants Mariano Villalba, Ryan Martin and Vincent Carino, members of the team Grey Wolves, move their robot as Killeen High School contestants Cooper Ross, Zach Clipper, and Conner Harvey, members of the team Nullpointers, struggle to get their robot to start during the Central Texas Region FIRST Robotics Qualifier Saturday at Central Texas College in Killeen.
Killeen High School contestants, from left, Jose Ubarri-Ramos, Wayne White and Joseph Neky, members of the team Epic Fail, attempt to move their robot off the platform during the Central Texas Region FIRST Robotics Qualifier Saturday at Central Texas College in Killeen,

By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald

The action was fast and furious Saturday, as 19 teams from area high schools pitted their homemade robots against each other during a regional qualifier at Central Texas College.

Small, wheeled robots, controlled by two students from each team, struggled to push a bowling ball into a designated area of a pen, then turn around and knock over stacked buckets of balls before returning to another designated area. The robots earning the most points moved on to the next qualifier with another school’s robot.

The event, called the Central Texas Region FIRST Robotics Qualifier, was the first at the college’s Anderson Campus Center. The qualifier is part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology program, which was established to inspire more student interest in the fields of science, math and technology through robotics.

U.S. Army Col. Kenny Crawford, Operational Test Command deputy commander and chief of staff, praised the students for their work before the qualifier began. Crawford encouraged the teams to post videos of their robots and qualifiers on the Internet so others can see it and learn.

“Each of you have sacrificed time, effort, money and talent to build what you’re going to put on display today,” said Crawford.

“This event is coined a ‘varsity sport for the mind.’ It’s all about mental brawn. And what you’re bringing here will help us in the future. You’re not only here to learn, but to grow and someday make a difference in the world.”

To participate, each team was responsible for designing, building and programming their robots based on sound engineering principles.

Teams from Waco, Killeen, Marble Falls, Florence, Salado and Copperas Cove showed up for the qualifier. Elimination matches determined which winners will compete in the state competition at the University of Texas at Arlington in early March.

During the event, the I Built team from Copperas Cove High School competed against the Grey Wolves team from Shoemaker High School in Killeen. I Built’s robot, named Wall-e, drove down the ramp and began pushing a stacked bucket of balls before it suddenly shut off. The four-member team’s robot drivers were senior Dustin Montes, 17, and sophomore Randi Gillespie, 15.

“The robot moved a little, but shut off because the brain was not responding,” said Montes, as he tinkered with the robot in the pit stop downstairs before the next competition.

“We have seven more matches so we’re working on fixing it now. It’s stressful when the robot won’t go, especially when everyone is looking at you. For sure, we’ll make it work, though,” he said.

The Grey Wolves team, which won that event, also moved on to the next match, which it took handily. The drivers of the four-member team were senior Vincent Carino, 17, and junior Mariano Villalba, 18. Carino said it was his second year competing, but the first year for his teammates.

“This event brings us all together as a team with one goal of winning with our robot,” said Carino. “And if we win, we get to represent Shoemaker at the state level. Building a robot takes a lot of creativity, and it’s the competition that drives all of us.”