Local robotics team wins shot at world championship

The West Ranch High School robots team members Demitri Duran, left, and Julian Hope of team Project 691, do their pre-competition ritual at the FIRST Robotics Competition held at Valencia High School in Valencia on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

After three days filled with panicked engineering, signs of camaraderie and robots smashing into one another, the Santa Clarita local Team 691 has won an invitation to the 2019 FIRST World Championship.

The 2019 “For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) World Championship is set to be held in Houston this year, and will bring together tens of thousands of students from around the world who participate in K-12 robotics programs – along with the educators, industry professionals, sponsors, organizations and colleges/universities who support them, according to event organizers.

The robot named Jeffrey, of team Team 691, foreground, competes at the FIRST Robotics Competition held at Valencia High School in Valencia on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

But, before they received their invitation to the Houston competition, which will feature teams from the Middle East, China, Taiwan and a number of other countries, Team 691 had to punch their ticket by placing at the Los Angeles North Regional competition, which was held in the Valencia High School gym during this past weekend.

As those in attendance walked in the building, they were greeted by the sight of the impressive robotics obstacle course. The pilots of each $5,000, 120-pound robot navigated through the various timed challenges — from lifting disks onto a platform to shooting balls into a basket.

Robotics Team 691 team members Julian Hope, left, and Demitri Duran lift their robot named Jeffrey into the arena at the FIRST Robotics Competition held at Valencia High School in Valencia on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

In the back of the gym sat an engineering bay, where the students worked to get their robot in competitive shape, trade materials and share know-how with members of other teams in an effort to help one another out — an aspect of the competition that is woven into both the culture and competition of robotics tournaments.

In addition to teams from California and the rest of the United States being present, six teams from China and Taiwan were also competitors.

Demitri Duran of team “Project 691”, displays his uniform as the driver of the team’s robot named Jeffrey at the FIRST Robotics Competition held at Valencia High School in Valencia on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“We came here to compete in the robotics competition, but some of us have never been overseas,” said the Taiwanese team’s captain, Jeffery Tzou, 18. “So, this was our chance to come here, see America, compete. We have high hopes for this weekend.”

At the end of the weekend, after all 36 teams had competed, Team 691, which had never before been chosen to compete at the world championship, took home second place and was given a shot to compete in Houston.

“We’ve been a team in the district for 17 years, and we started out being hosted in people’s homes,” said Jessica Robotics, Team 691’s teacher/adviser. “So, for us to finally have our robot get us to the (world competition) … it’s a ‘Cinderella’ story.”

The FIRST Championship in Houston is being held April 17-20 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. For more information about the event and how to watch Team 691 compete, visit the event’s website at www.firstchampionship.org/houston.

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