The Rolla Patriots and Maniacal Mechanics, two of Rolla Robotics competitive teams, wrapped up this year’s season by competing in the world level of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge (FTC) in St. Louis, and came back with a vision of where they want to take the team.

The Rolla Patriots and Maniacal Mechanics, two of Rolla Robotics competitive teams, wrapped up this year’s season by competing in the world level of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge (FTC) in St. Louis, and came back with a vision of where they want to take the team.

The  FTC world competition was made up of 128 teams, split into two divisions of 64. Each team in the competition played nine matches, and in their respective divisions, the Rolla Patriots placed 16th, and the Maniacal Mechanics placed 52nd.

While at the competition, Leigh Ann Tumbrink head coach for the teams, and the rest of Rolla Robotics had their interests sparked by an opportunity to expand their program. Between matches, Leigh Ann and the coaches were able to speak with those involved in another one of FIRST’s competitions, the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Currently Rolla Robotics solely competes in the FIRST Tech Challenge competition, where teams compete in pairs to complete a variety of tasks. However according to Leigh Ann, it has been the dream of the program to compete in the FRC, since Rolla Robotics was first formed.

FRC is similar to FTC in many ways, but is a challenge of an even greater scale. FRC competitors work in teams of three on a larger field, with some students even entering the area themselves in some events. The students are also only given 42 days after the announcement of that season’s challenge, whereas FTC students have more time to customize their robots.

Rolla Robotics elected to compete only in the FTC for many years, due to cost restraints and the number of students involved. However they now believe they are ready for the next step in making their FRC dream come true.

“I think we’ve grown to the point where we have some kids in the FTC program that would benefit from moving on to the FRC,” said Leigh Ann. “I have an adult who’s interested and we’re pretty close to the funding. So there’s no reason not to. We’ll give it a try and see what happens. That’s kind of how we started FTC.”

Competing in the FRC will generate more options for local students interested in robotics. When Rolla Robotics was first founded, they kept the number of students at 15 or less, due to a cap on the number of students allowed to compete. This cap was removed, allowing more students to join, but then reimplemented, forcing them to decrease their numbers.

“The kids that apply usually are so good that it’s hard to say no,” said Leigh Ann. “It’s hard to cut people.”  

Attending the FRC will give Rolla Robotics the option to have more kids get involved, as it boasts much larger teams, with some having as many as 60 students. Leigh Ann says the team might, “start at ten and see where it goes.”

Rolla Robotics is currently in the middle of their fundraising season, and Leigh Ann says she intends to keep the fundraising separate for each group, and their goal is to increase their program, rather than spread it out thinner.

“I don’t want to take away from FTC,” she said. “Some schools use FTC as their Junior Varsity, and limit it to freshman and sophomores. We’re not doing that. Our FTC program is successful. We really like it so we’re going to keep it how it is.”

Local residents can meet members of the FTC robotics teams as they hold their fundraising event at the Rolla High School parking lot and cafeteria this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The team will be hosting their annual rummage sale along with other activities and sights such as the Air Force STEM van.

As Rolla Robotics continues to expand, their efforts are beginning to get noticed. Rolla has been asked to host another one of FIRST’s competitions, the FIRST LEGO League competition. Leigh Ann said Rolla was specifically requested for the event.

“It’s hard work, but our hard work seems to be getting noticed,” she said. “It’s really exciting to see us come from barely ten kids to being a hub for FIRST Robotics.” Leigh Ann said she’s excited for the future and she is “pretty proud” of her students.