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Durango High School robotics team uses state competition as educational experience

Students shift focus toward summer aerospace event
The Durango High School robotics team finished in 24th place in the Feb. 18 FIRST Tech state competition in Fort Collins. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
Feb 17, 2023
Durango High School robotics team heads to state competition

Despite not finishing on top at FIRST Tech State Robotics Competition, the Durango High School robotics team is feeling positive with how they fared this year in competition.

Robotics teacher Jordan Englehart was pleased with the trip to Fort Collins because the team finished in 24th place out of 32 teams. He was impressed the team, which had little support from professional sponsors and had been competing in robotics competitions for less than a year, was able to outperform eight other teams.

“It was pretty amazing to see the level of competition at the state tournament and the range of different solutions that were developed, and with some teams from out-of-state having qualified to be there as well, there was even a taste of national talent participating in the competition,” Englehart said.

When not enough teams qualify for the competition, often teams from nearby states will participate in the state competition.

Englehart said competing against teams with a variety of experience levels allowed the DHS team members to see how they can become more creative with their designs to score more points in the competition next year.

The competition involves students navigating the robot around a grid that is 12 feet by 12 feet. The goal is to use the robot to move cones and place them on rods varying in size. The students control the robot using a remote control. However, they can earn bonus points if they program the robot to accomplish tasks autonomously. The robot itself can be no taller or wider than 18 inches with the arm attachments at their lowest level.

“Everybody who came back was already buzzing with ideas about how we could approach the challenge next year and generate more ideas and test concepts,” Englehart said.

Englehart said other teams designed a robot that had arms long enough to place cones on the rods without moving, which saved time and allowed team members to score more points.

It is just one concept the team may look into for next year, as well as focusing on the autonomous portion of the competition.

While on the trip, the team was also able to tour the school of engineering at Colorado State University, which Englehart said allowed students to ask questions and learn more about the university’s program.

“We got to see all the cool manufacturing and design tools that are available,” Englehart said. “And I think several of the students who are looking into engineering programs in-state were really excited about that.”

The team is part of the applied physics class at DHS. The class also competes in a summer aerospace design competition in July at the Kennedy Space Center.

The competition has the students complete a 55-page project booklet based on a design concept. This year the concept revolves around designing lunar a settlement that orbits between the moon and the Earth and sends out mining operations to harvest minerals on the moon.

The students submit a design proposal on how such an engineering feat could be completed.

Englehart said students generally start with a broad concept.

“We call it the divergent convergent thinking model where we definitely start broad, and we go through various stages where they can throw a lot of different ideas out there,” he said. “We also do a lot of team idea generation to kind of come up with different concepts for the solution.”

Students must finish the proposal by March 25 and it will go through a review process to see whether the students will make the trip to Florida in July.


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