Nacogdoches High School’s robotics team turned its first try at state-level competition into a ninth place finish in Class 5A. 

“Other schools were amazed how far we got,” said Career & Technical Education teacher Travis Squyres, who oversees the school’s robotics program. 

Teams entering the University Interscholastic League competition in February began work last fall. For NHS students, that meant designing and building a robot – named Vicarious – that would fulfill the tasks assigned by UIL for the competition.

That meant a number of failed attempts for students before arriving at a design that worked. It also came with plenty of modern day headaches commonly related to manufacturing, including supply chain issues that delayed delivery for weeks of key parts needed for the project.

“We had a lot of failures,” said Squyres, “but that’s the whole point. You’re going to have a lot of failures before you have success.”

That also included running low on parts (or completely out of) – some were on backorder with little hope of the class receiving replacements in time. In a handful of cases, the short term solutions devised by students actually worked better.

As for direction, students had no blueprint to guide them in design, only the assigned tasks the robot needed to complete, Squyres said. 

“We basically started with the drivetrain, and we went from drivetrain to shooter, and we went from shooter to intake and then to end game,” said Levi Haynes.

To tackle the complexity of the project and to streamline the design process, team members divided into groups to attack different tasks. The team also kept meticulous notes during design, construction and testing, something required by the UIL rules.

“We had 12 people, and we separated them,” Levi said. “People built this part, this part and this part. Then we came together and put it all together.

It’s also important to have a firm grasp on the rules of the competition. Nicholas Cates, the only senior in the robotics class, learned the rule book front and back, information that proved handy when challenging design errors made by other schools. All of that’s part of the competition.

Some of the tasks included scooping up small disks scattered on the floor and shooting them into frisbee golf-style baskets. Robots also had to shoot out webs – all with exacting specifications – and complete other assigned functions. Some of the engagements had to be programmed for autonomous operations; others had two student controllers working in tandem.