Dozens of 3-foot-tall robots made by high schoolers from around the world competed at the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday and Saturday for a spot in the world championship this month in Houston.
Nevada’s largest robotics competition consisted of 44 teams driving robots in a battle to crown the regional champion. In the 74 qualifying matches that took place all day Friday and Saturday morning, robots had to shoot hoops before climbing a series of bars and hanging. Safety inspectors reviewed the vehicles before each round, referees watched for robot roughhousing and judges tracked the scores.
”We want to get them involved with STEM in any way we can,” said Louis Rubbo, education specialist and team development for First, a nonprofit that encourages students to pursue robotics. “This is an engaging way where they can do problem solving, work as a team and they build up their skills in general for engineering and communication.”
First has been hosting the robotics competitions since 2005, when only high schoolers were eligible. Now, Rubbo said, First programs extend to preschool, with a Lego league and a middle school tech challenge to prepare for the ultimate competition in high school.
Local teams included students from Green Valley, Desert Oasis and Cheyenne high schools, Las Vegas Academy, Southeast Career Technical and Northwest Career Technical academies and The Meadows School. Teams also came Northern Nevada, California, Arizona and Florida, as well as Brazil, Mexico and Turkey.
Before the matches Saturday, U.S. Air Force Col. Cameron Dadgar encouraged the students to consider a career in the Air Force or Space Force.
Chris Reilly, director of recruiting and workforce development for Tesla, said the company’s Nevada branch opened a college-level course, a manufacturing development program, in 2017 after Reilly attended the Nevada robotics competition. He hoped the students involved in the competition would stay on the path to help produce more sustainable products in the future.
“You all are learning things today and getting ahead to be a part of this journey, whether it’s at Tesla or whether it’s at any company that’s helping in this mission,” he said.