Edward Strickling was nervous as a crowd of about 50 people counted down to the start of the match.
Once it reached zero, the Shoemaker High School sophomore grabbed a controller and started maneuvering his robot, Bilbo, within the competition ring.
Strickling and his partner, Shoemaker sophomore Elisa Stam, spent about three weeks building Bilbo for competition in the Central Texas First Tech Challenge Regional Robotics Qualifier on Saturday at Central Texas College.
“We hadn’t accomplished nearly as much as we thought we had to,” Stam said after the first round. “This is our first time ever running a robot on the field.”
Twelve teams participated, but only seven passed the initial software and hardware inspection to compete. The competition stages short games played by remote-controlled robots built by the students.
“These kids may not compete in football or basketball, (but) they get to compete with their minds,” said Teresa Chavez, event manager and director of continuing education at Central Texas College. “I want them to understand that what they do here today has a real-world application.”
Stam and Strickling are students in the high school’s robotics class and both hope to pursue a career in engineering and technology.
“A lot of other classes, you just learn about the subject but with (robotics) you learn how to do it,” Stam said. “You actually get to sit there and build a miniature robot and see how well it works and what doesn’t work.”
They build most of the robot — from its frame and aesthetics to programing its functions and troubleshooting — in the class.
During the inspection round, the duo modified their robot’s arm so it could move on to the next round. Bilbo’s arms didn’t work in the second round, so they went to the “pit” where they made more adjustments.
Sandra Melendez, coordinator for the Science, Technology, Math and Engineering program at Shoemaker, was impressed her students never gave up, despite difficulties.
“They just wanted to make (it past) inspection so they could play,” she said. “They never gave up. They never lost faith in themselves, and that’s something you can’t learn.”
One team each from Waco, Florence and Shoemaker high schools and two teams from Midway High School in Waco, will compete next month at the regional event at the University of Texas in Arlington.