Prize-winning robotics team aims high - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Prize-winning robotics team aims high

April 13th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Prize-winning robotics team aims high

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

Sure, the Chandler-based Degrees of Freedom robotics team is inspiring others around the world, but it’s the impact they are having in their own homes that can put a smile on their face.

“Seeing people like us is definitely an encouragement,” said Natalie Rodriguez, captain of the 17-person team sponsored by the Si Se Puede Foundation.

“Personally, my little sister was never involved with STEM, but she came to one of our outreach events, and she had the ability to touch the robot for the first time, and after that she wants to join the team,” added Natalie, a Chandler High student.

What makes Degrees of Freedom stand out is the majority of team members are girls and racial minorities. Only seven of 17 members are boys. That makes them a rare sight when they compete against other teams at robotics competitions.

“Typically, it has been more male dominated, than female,” Natalie said. “Or if I ask, it has been like we have two girls total, out of like the 30 dudes.”

“And on top of that, all of the girls that we’ve seen, or all of the girls that we’ve interacted with on other teams, are not given the same chances as the males on their team, they’re more put on like a back-burner position,” said Tanisha Baliga, the team’s outreach coordinator and a Hamilton High School student.

Degrees of Freedom placed seventh at the Arizona Valley Regional in March. That earned them a trip to the world championships at the end of this month in Houston.

Each team had to design a robot that could do a number of different tasks. First, it had to differentiate colors and pick up basketball balls inside the playing area. They were either red or blue, and they had to pick up their assigned color.

Then, they had to shoot the ball at a target. If they went for the top target at about 10 feet tall, that was two points. If they went for the much easier lower target around 4 feet tall, that was only a point. Six robots were competing at the same time, and they could play defense as well as offense.

After that, as a bonus challenge, their robot had to climb up three monkey bars. Degrees of Freedom did not go for that during regionals, but has since added that capability to its robot, Red Bull. They plan on doing that challenge at nationals.

The team was awarded the Chairman’s Award at regionals for its impact on the community. Being a team of mostly girls and racial minorities was cited in how it is impacting the community.

The team builds the robot from scratch, using 3D printers. Members do all the computer coding themselves.

They have some mentor volunteers, students from Arizona State University or mentors provided by some of the top tech companies in the region, who also provide equipment and financial support.

That will help when they get to Houston, where about 400 teams are expected to compete, some of them that have been sponsored by NASA.

“In Houston we’re competing only with the best of the best, so we’re definitely really excited to go there,” Natalie said.