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By Cynthia Menzel

In April, thousands of aspiring young engineers gathered in Houston, Texas, for the annual First Robotic International Championship.
Students from all over the world, including a rookie team and advisor from Half Moon Bay High School, competed and attended workshops.
“The world championship was a wild ride for four days,” according to first-time robotics club advisor Sean Riordan, a member of Cabrillo Unified Teachers Association (CUTA). “We were one of five rookie teams in the competition and we finished 46th out of 75 in
our division.”

In addition, the team was awarded the “Gracious Professionalism” award. All in all, it was a great showing for the “Pumpkin Bots” (a reference to Half Moon Bay’s famous annual festival) and their robot, Zip Tie. In fact, the robotics club had only started last fall in a Moss Beach garage and intended to participate in just one competition.

Riordan, CUTA co-president and bargaining team member, teaches art, including metal sculpture. Teaching robotics isn’t that big of a leap, he says. “There is a lot of working with hands, building things with crafts and a sense of pride – that runs through my art classes and that applies to Zip Tie, too.”

Riordan learned with his students, calling the experience “exciting.” “It’s hard to keep your hands off something as fun as a robot. As a teacher I want to help as much as I can, but it’s important to step to the side and let students fully take over.”

The Pumpkin Bots have stood out in their competitions because they are a small team that works exceptionally well together, Riordan said. Most teams have 20-40 students while Half Moon Bay’s team has fewer than 10. “Everybody gets their hands on the robot and that doesn’t happen when you have teams of 40. Our two pilots were experienced in battle bots so we could engage in ‘rough play’ really effectively,” he added.

The competitions have three challenges. First, students must make the robot move autonomously and shoot a basket for 30 seconds. The second two minutes have the bot collecting and shooting basketball-sized tennis balls into two baskets – eight feet and four feet high, respectively. The last 30 seconds involves the bots climbing a series of monkey bars that are four, six and eight feet tall.

“By the end we accomplished all three challenges,” Riordan said. “I’m so proud of these students, how they gelled together, the group sharing and what they’ve accomplished.”

Club plans for the summer include familiarizing new members with Zip Tie (two members graduated) and computer programming. Donations to help subsidize costs for the robot build and maintenance, as well as transportation and lodging during competitions, can be made at here.

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