Members of Kokomo High School’s TechnoKATS practice with their robot after making a design change following the first competition of the season. The team is able to practice at a facility provided by Duke Energy.                                                                                          Jenn Goad/Kokomo Herald
Members of Kokomo High School’s TechnoKATS practice with their robot after making a design change following the first competition of the season. The team is able to practice at a facility provided by Duke Energy. Jenn Goad/Kokomo Herald

Kokomo High School’s robotics team, TechnoKATS, is one of the original members of the IndianaFIRST robotics organization.

The program allows for students to learn hands-on skills for conceptualizing, designing, building, and competing robots in different games each season. The competition kicks into high gear in January, when the annual game is announced. Once the game is shared with teams across the United States, the students set out to design and build the robot they will use.

The game varies from year to year and this season’s game is the largest to date. The game, called First Power Up, requires the students to program their robots to move autonomously (on its own) for a set time before the kids take over and maneuver them across the game board and scoring more points. The game board pushes the competitors to be inventive and quick with their designs as the big twist this season was beating the clock instead of outright beating an opponent, which is different from years past.

The TechnoKATS are comprised of Kokomo High School students, and each one contributes to the team using their best skills. Some are strong in concept and design, some are strong in developing game strategy, and others are skilled at operating the robots on the playing field.

Sean Childers, junior, came to the team by accident when a friend dragged him to a summer practice. From there, he remained with the team and has become the lead scout and strategist for the TechnoKATS. He records match data from each round, trying to figure out each teams’ strategy and how it can help, or hurt the TechnoKATS. During competition, the teams are randomized and placed in various alliances. The alliances work together to score points. The more points, the further the teams advance in each tournament and overall for the competition season. Childers uses his knowledge to talk to his own team and members of their alliance as they navigate the competitions.

In order to qualify for the state tournament that will be held at Memorial Gym on Apr. 13, the teams have to accrue district points. The top 32 teams in the state compete at state, hoping to win a bid to the World Championship in Detroit, Mich. at the end of next month.

“Before each match, we’ll take the drive team and meet with our alliance, so we can discuss what we can do. Communication is the most important part of each match because you need to know who is focusing on what and what your restraints are,” said Childers. “Looking at our last competition data, we found we were not good with our intake, being able to grab the game piece and maneuvering it. We improved the arms and added a camera.”

TechnoKATS Head Coach Joy Dewing said the team really focuses on communication with each other so they can most effectively troubleshoot issues that arise at practice but also in competition.

“The kids take charge of the team. They decide what they want to do and what strategy they want to score the most points,” she said. “The best laid plans don’t always work and that is a valuable lesson to learn. What are you going to do? The kids learn on the field and in practice and work time.”

“The drive team, after each match, we ask them what worked, didn’t work, and how we can fix it. They always work to improve. What we discovered at our first competition, we found the arms weren’t working well. When we got back to the workshop, they were able to say exactly what went wrong and how they planned to fix it.”

Following their first competition of the season, the team learned that they were not able to grab the game pieces and move them into scoring position as quickly as they would like. The team went back to the design board and made the necessary changes to fulfill their goal.

Dewing said the kids take the lead and they are assisted by mentors, many of whom are Delphi engineers and one of the best parts of being part of this group is watching the students grow into young adults. 

“Watching the confidence grow in the kids is unbelievable. It’s so much more than what we do in the four months we compete. They are building skills for life,” she said.

The team will compete at the end of spring break and will host the State Championship in two weeks.