Helena's Fusion 4133 Robotics Team came back with more hardware than they went down with to the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge World Championship in Houston.
"It was just great — an impressive group of kids," head coach Jamie Dushin said. "They killed it all year."
Fusion 4133 won the World Championship Tournament Edison Division Design Award at the competition that took place April 18-22. Around 7,000 FIRST Tech Challenge teams competed in the 2022-23 robotics season but only 192 teams advanced to the championship. There were four divisions in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship, and Fusion 4133 played 11 matches while competing in the Edison Division.
Some of the robotics teams at worlds were sponsored by Apple, Silicon Valley, Boeing, NASA and more, but that didn't deter teams from smaller states. Sheafor said Fusion 4133 doesn't have one big sponsor but is sponsored by many people in the community.
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"We learned a lot, especially for next year," team member Kathleen Cook said. "It's very interesting to see how other teams do it when you get down there… There's a lot of resources and a lot of teams who have more resources."
Team co-captain Zach Heller said that it was the first time Fusion 4133 has "done anything better than just attending" the championship.
Heller said some of the criteria for the design award was aesthetic, perfection of design, design process and uniqueness. The team pointed out that their robot may have caught the judges' attention because of its 3D printed belts.
"There's no other team who does 3D-printed belts," Heller said. "They've worked for us flawlessly, and I think that they recognized that as something different."
When teams are recognized for an award, a teaser is read that drop hints about who the winner will be leading up to the announcement. Some of the teasers dropped in the announcement of Fusion 4133's award were words like "fused together," "geared up" and sending them home to "the Big Sky."
"Some of us guessed it was us and some of us were like 'Wait,'" co-captain Miranda Sheafor said.
"I got it after the first thing, and I was like, 'You guys! You guys!' And you were all sitting there looking at me dumbfounded," Cook said, laughing.
The robot game this year that was released at the start of the season requires the robots to be able to drive around and lift small cones onto poles of different heights with the poles going up in points as they get taller. The robots need to be able to run fully autonomously for the first 30 seconds of the game, and then the team pilots them for the remaining two minutes.
Fusion 4133 took first place in the robot game at the Montana FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Championships in Bozeman in February. They built a new robot in preparation for world championships with a few differences from their state robot.
One of the alterations is that their world's robot can pick up a cup and rotate it while lifting it over its head so it can place cups upright on the cones in front and behind it. Heller said the other difference they made is a better focus on odometry, or the use of data from motion sensors to calculate a change in position over time.
The team said that the floor mats were an eighth of an inch or so smaller because the company that produces them doesn't make the same size anymore. Sheafor said that this discrepancy messed up their robot and other teams' robots, especially on the autonomous section.
"The actual mats for the competition were a different size than anybody has ever practiced on or programmed their robot for for this challenge," Sheafor said. "So that was interesting then to just have to be like 'Well, it's going to be the way that it is.'"
Down in Houston, the team rented a large Airbnb for all the members and their families and took advantage of the wide range of activities in the big city such as indoor skydiving, Dave and Buster's, three story laser tag, an escape room where the team beat their parents, karaoke and tons of food like a Brazilian steakhouse.
"A really great part of it is getting to spend so much time with these guys," Sheafor said. "… We would go out and do whatever adventure sounded good and everyone just gets to loosen up and enjoy themselves around each other."
The team also befriended another robotics team from Kazakhstan. That team invited them to a tournament in Kazakhstan in June but Jamie Dushin sais he didn't think they would be able to swing that.
Sheafor said that when she and fellow senior Heller graduate and leave the team, the next oldest members are now sophomores. Heller said this is a good thing because the team will have two years to develop and perfect their robot builds instead of just one year as seniors.
There are eight team members on Fusion 4133 from Capital High School, East Helena High School and an eighth-grader from Montana City. Other team members are sophomore Kate Drynan and freshmen Grady Dushin, Lincoln Frederickson and Joey Keller and eighthgrader Steele Hansing.
"I'm excited for them (Sheafor and Heller)," Cook said. "They're going to do some cool things in college. They're two pretty smart cookies."