Siblings gear up for world robotics meet SanTan Sun News

Siblings gear up for world robotics meet

April 16th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Siblings gear up for world robotics meet
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By COLLEEN SPARKS, Staff

Robots are overtaking a Chandler home where three siblings are gearing up for a fast-paced world competition that will test their technology and communication skills.

Ruthanne Teo, 17, and her brothers Nathaniel, 13, and Ethan, 10, and their teammates are preparing elaborately designed and built robots they will maneuver through challenging courses at the 2018 VEX Robotics World Championship April 25-May 1 in Louisville, Kentucky.

More than 40 countries are expected to be represented at the international tournament. Students design and build a robot they play against other teams in a game-based engineering match.

Daryl Teo, an Intel principal engineer, coaches his sons and their teammates while his daughter Ruthanne and her peers on their high school team coach themselves. Daryl and his wife, Michelle, have another child, Ariel, 15, who is not part of the robotics competitions. Michelle homeschools all four children.

Ruthanne and Ethan will be competing in their first VEX world robotics tournament, but this will be the third year Nathaniel’s group has participated. The first two seasons he was in the elementary school division, but this time he and his peers on the Desert Titan team will be in the middle school division.

“It’s fun,” Nathaniel said. “It’s really busy and packed. The design is sort of the hard part. It’s mainly taking it and modifying it.”

Daryl helped Nathaniel start the Desert Titan robotics club three years ago with two of Nathaniel’s friends after Nathaniel caught the robotics bug at the Arizona Homeschool Convention.

Ruthanne got the robot bug a bit later, but she is just as hooked on the technology.

“I started doing robotics last year on an all-girls team,” she said. “My brothers have been (in) robotics for quite a few years. I never wanted to do it, even though my parents were like, ‘You should do robotics.’

“I met this girl at a math competition; she was starting an all-girls robotics team. On the first day, I fell in love with it and loved everything about it, so I started building and driving (the robot) more.”

The Desert Titan team came in second place in their divisional playoffs and took sixth place overall at the world championships last year. The team also won the Arizona VEX IQ Middle School State Championship in Chandler in March.

Ethan is equally hooked on robotics, and he and two of his friends wanted to start a team this year. Daryl helped them form Team Desert Bot this season and the group got the Teamwork Champion award at the Arizona VEX IQ Elementary School State Championship in February in Goodyear.

“It’s really fun,” Ethan said. “I like building them and trying different routines.”

Daryl works with Ethan and Nathaniel and their robotics club friends at the Teos’ home. In the family room, a plastic “field” is set up where Ethan and Nathaniel practice maneuvering their robots, which are made of many intricate pieces similar to Legos.

Nathaniel said a YouTube video helped him and his homeschooled teammates Zachary Wang, 12, of Chandler and Tad Reimer, 12, of Mesa, figure out how to build their robot. Nathaniel said each team member has their strengths.

“If only one person started building this, it would take a long time,” he said. “Tad’s a really good driver. Zachary’s a good builder. I’m a good designer/programmer.”

The three boys also have adjusted to a more difficult software program to design their robot this year.

Daryl said as the coach of Nathaniel and Ethan’s robotics teams he tries to find a balance between letting the children learn things on their own and steering them “toward the right direction.” Being an engineer, he said, he understands concepts needed in robotics.

“One aspect of this is the engineering process: How do you troubleshoot, defining the root of the problem?” Daryl said. “I can teach them about software programming principles.”

Competing on the Desert Bot team with Ethan are Keillor Hemmings, 9, of Tempe, and Quinten Cecil, 9, of Queen Creek.

Ethan said he is nervous about the world tournament, but Nathaniel has given him tips on driving and building the robot.

Ruthanne said she has always wanted to be a doctor and she plans to major in biological sciences at Arizona State University next year.

After competing with other girls on a robotics team previously, she now tweaks and takes charge of robots with four boys on a team called Phoenix Lights.

The boys on the team are Jeremy Graunke, 14, of Gilbert; David Hayward, 18, of Queen Creek; Benjamin Keller, 14, and Connor Nail, 17, of Chandler.

Phoenix Lights was the Design Award Winner at the Arizona AIA VRC High School State Championship, a robotics competition held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in February in Prescott.

The team also won the Design Award at the world championship last year.

“With the all-girls team, we were all learning something new so it was really exciting,” Ruthanne said. “It’s nice being on the boys team, too, because I can really learn from them.”

She said she has heard a lot about the world championships from her brothers.

“We’re very happy to be able to go together this time,” Ruthanne said. “A lot of our conversations are about robotics. It’s fun to talk about what’s going on.”

With Phoenix Lights, Ruthanne has helped build and drive the robot and said she likes that it “gives me something to do with my hands and just coming up with ideas.” She also coaches two teams of Grace Christian Academ students.

Ruthanne is helping the third-grade team prepare for the world championships, where it will compete against Ethan’s team.

“It’s really exciting watching them grow,” she said. “When they started, none of them knew how to do any robotics or put two pieces together. Now they’re like, ‘I know what to do.’ I’m really proud of them, how far they’ve come. They tell me they love robotics and they’re excited for next year.”

Her teammate Graunke said traveling to the championship is a fun experience.

“You get to travel there, compete with a whole bunch of people,” Jeremy said. “I’ve always liked doing mechanical things, playing with Legos. It’s fun to program things. It’s kind of like playing a video game but it’s real. It takes a lot of time.”

The high school teams have a school year to create a robot that will compete in a game with different types of game pieces and rules, Kathryn Graunke, Jeremy’s mother, host to the Phoenix Lights club and STEM Opportunities for Arizona Homeschoolers co-coordinator.

“This year, they have a field and you play defense and offense against other robots, pick up cones and put them into scoring zones,” Kathryn said. “There’s the sporting aspect of it, but then there’s also the professional aspect of it.

“The important part is that you’ve learned engineering skills. You’ve learned to talk to professional engineers, to document the process.”

Connor, on Phoenix Lights, said he and his fellow robotics competitors learn how to handle unexpected problems at the tournaments. At a state tournament, he said “things started falling apart” and they had to fix the robots.

“I really like the option to build things,” Connor said. “I’ve always liked building things. It’s neat to see all these parts when you have something you can drive around. I’ve also had an interest in software development.”

Benjamin said he is also looking forward to checking out the competition at the world tournament. He said as a new team member he is trying to learn as much as he can.

“It’s fun to just be with the team and getting to build robots,” he said.

Unlike other teams, Phoenix Lights is led by its members, without an adult coach.

Phoenix Lights, Desert Bot and Desert Titan robotics clubs are raising money to cover students’ costs of going to the world tournament in Kentucky.

To help: vex-iq.ed.co/trinity-homeschool-robotics-club or gofundme.com/phoenixlights2018.

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