Summit High School Robotics Team, BendTech

Summit HS Robotics Team to Unveil International Competition Robot at BendTECH on February 27

The Summit High School Robotics Team, Chaos Theory, will be unveiling their 2019 competition robot at the BendTECH Coworking space on February 27 from 4-6pm. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend.

“I always compare it to basketball,” says Kei Dallas, a Senior at Bend’s Summit High School. “But the rules change every year.”

Kei—a veteran on the Summit High School Robotics Team, Chaos Theory—is explaining the rules of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), an international tournament where teams vie for supremacy in robotics engineering and programming, business, teamwork and more.

I’m a decidedly non-technical person, and as I’m struggling to wrap my brain around what’s to me a completely alien—but seemingly very cool—game, I’ve asked Kei and his teammate Aidan Beery to explain FRC to me by imagining how wizards might explain the sport of Quidditch to a Muggle.

Kei and Aidan, two teenage robotics, computer science and business savants, are the wizards. The Muggle is, of course, me.

In my mind’s eye, I’m envisioning various remote-control contraptions equipped with lasers, circular saw blades and flamethrowers battling it out in a shower of sparks and crunching metal. But when I admit this, Kei and Aidan laugh.

“It’s definitely not like ‘Battle Bots’,” chuckles Aidan, referring to televised robot fighting contest The Discovery Channel bills as “the biggest, baddest, strongest and fastest next-generation robots from all corners of the globe trading haymakers to reign supreme in Robot Combat Sports.”

“Of course not. I was just kidding,” I lie. “So… what is it?”

What is the First Robotics Competition?

According to the organization’s website:

Founded in 1989 and based in Manchester, NH, FIRST is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, and to motivate them to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM fields.

Encompassing programs for different age-levels, from Kindergarten through high school, the organization claims a membership of more than 615,000 students, and more than 250,000 mentors and volunteers around the world. In 2018, 3,647 teams made up of more than 91,000 high-school age students competed at the FRC Championship in Houston, TX.

Per the FRC site:

Combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. We call FIRST Robotics Competition the ultimate Sport for the Mind. High-school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.”

Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team. Each season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship.

Every January, FRC announces the season’s “Challenge”, effectively the new playing field and goals for which each team’s robot must be designed. Every team around the world learns of the annual “Challenge” on the same day, and then has six weeks to design, build and perfect a robot for the competition.

And as Kei and Aidan explained to me, the playing field and the rules change every year.

“FRC unveils the new challenge on the first Sunday of every year,” says Aidan. “This year, our team joined a few other area teams and borrowed a room at the Central Oregon Community College Redmond campus to live-stream the kickoff. Some people celebrate New Year’s, but we celebrate the FRC kickoff.”

After kickoff, explains Aidan, teams have exactly six weeks to design, build, fabricate, test and program a new robot based on the task(s) the robot has to compete for the season. This year, for example, the robot cannot exceed four feet in height, but it must be able to manipulate 19-inch-square panels and 15-inch-diameter kickballs, carefully and precising elevating both to a height of multiple feet. Team Chaos Theory fabricates the robot from scratch.

“When the 45 days are up, the robot goes in a big plastic bag and we’re not allowed to touch it,” says Aidan. “And then we move into competition season.”

Teams compete regionally in an effort amass enough points to be invited to the Houston Championship, where they compete against—and collaborate with—competitors from around the world. A large emphasis is placed on friendly competition, which the FRC refers to as “Gracious Professionalism” and “Coopertition”, and defines as “displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.”

Cooperation, inclusivity and kindness are threads that seemingly run through all aspects of FRC and Team Chaos Theory.

“The general idea is you’re competitive, but in a healthy way,” explains Aidan. “For one thing, you need to form alliances in the competition, so the person who’s your opponent in one match might be your ally in the next. So, it’s important that you treat everyone with respect. For example, if your ‘enemy’ comes up to you in need of a spare part, part of gracious professionalism is that you give it to them, you help them out, you lift them up.”

“That’s not just something with our team,” he continues. “The FRC as a whole is training people to be gracious professionals toward each other, helping students learn those soft skills you need to develop in order to become a professional in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field.”

Engineering, Programming, Marketing and Friendship

“Even though FRC is like a sport, I would say it’s much more involved than that,” says Kei. “Being part of an FRC team is almost like running a business, because not only do we have the robot that we’re building that’s kind of the product we’re developing, but we have to make a business plan, and we have to market ourselves in order to land sponsorships.”

Agrees Aidan, “Absolutely. It’s not about just your engineers and your coders. We have 30 to 40 people on Chaos Theory, and they’re our support team, our business people, our essay writers, our graphics team. It’s all the individuals you would need to run a successful STEM business.”

Because of the multifaceted demands of running an FRC team, Aidan and Kei credit their involvement in Chaos Theory with not only improving their design and programming skills, but also with improving the “soft skills”, which they know will be just as important when they’re navigating a professional career.

Team Chaos Theory’s coach, Charlotte Van Valkenburg, a Bend architect who founded the Summit High School Robotics Team in 2014, says teaching these interpersonal skills is one of the most-rewarding aspects of mentoring the students over the course of their high school careers.

“Seeing these kids go from insecure freshmen to confident young adults is exciting to see,” she says. “In addition to the problem solving and hands-on learning, my favorite aspect of robotics is that the students have to learn communication and teamwork skills. I mean, some of these kids could probably build and program a robot on their own. But to do it as a team requires learning the soft skills, it requires cooperation.”

Aidan agrees. “The main thing I got out of the team was not necessarily learning how to be a better programmer or learning the STEM skills,” he reflects. “For me, it’s been a lot about learning how to work with people.”

As for Kei, he says his involvement in Team Chaos Theory has given him something even more valuable.

“Although it doesn’t have anything necessarily to do with robotics, I’ve definitely gotten a friend group out of this,” he says. “We’re a pretty close-knit group, and we’ll often go out and have a LAN (Local Area Network) party or play video games, because we’re just really good friends. It’s not just that you’re on the same team; you’re surrounding yourself with people that you know you can count on, even if it has nothing to do with the club itself. I think that’s something that’s really important.”

The Summit High School Robotics Team, Chaos Theory, will be unveiling their 2019 competition robot at the BendTECH Coworking space on February 27 from 4-6pm. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend.

Learn more about Team Chaos Theory and the First Robotics Competition.

BendTECH Coworking provides a co-working space within the 1001 Tech Center, located at 1001 SW Emkay Dr. in Bend, Oregon. It is the flagship project of its parent organization, BendTECH. We offer community memberships, drop-in desks, individual dedicated desks, and offices within a community of technically-oriented professionals and entrepreneurs.

Learn about membership options here.



About the Author

Sean Leslie is the President and Chief Content Officer of Cascade Cadence Content Marketing. Sean is a copywriter and storyteller who combines data-proven best practices with optimized, strategically written copy, creating content that attracts, educates, engages and converts. Sean’s a happy and devoted husband and father; an erstwhile runner, mountain biker, backpacker and outdoorsman; and—though English by birth—an adopted and fiercely proud Pacific Northwesterner. He’s also a vocal and passionate proponent of flip-flops in the office. Learn more about Cascade Cadence Content Marketing at