Team of US students places second at FIRST Robotics World Championship

Boston Lions Alliance competes in Texas
Team of US students places second at FIRST Robotics World Championship

The crowd cheered. A robot whizzed and whirred. Fluorescent orange notecards flew through the air. With a final score of 63-33, a local team of students from several schools, including five Upper School (US) students, advanced to the final round of the division playoffs in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics World Championship. From April 17 to April 20, the US students joined over 600 high school teams from around the world who competed at the event in Houston, building and programming robots to score goals on the arena’s special playing fields.

US students Max Conine, Spiros Gerogiannis, Adrien Tabor, Charlie Winikoff (all ’24), Alexia Gerogiannis ’25 , and Quinn Conine ’27 competed with the Boston Lions Alliance along with students from schools in New England and California. In their division of 75 teams, the Boston Lions placed fourth in the qualifying round, advancing to the final round where they placed 16th overall. Max, in his fifth year of competing in FIRST, said he became interested in pursuing robotics after working with Legos.

“In sixth grade, I started off in Lego League, which is the competition where you build Lego Mindstorm robots. I wasn’t really into robotics when I did Lego League, but as my team grew out of Lego League, we transitioned to the FIRST Robotics Competition.”

Over their first three years working together, the Lions continued to improve, learning how to build better robots through more robust mechanical systems and programming, he said.

“When we started competing in the FIRST competitions in eighth grade, we were total rookies,” Max said. “Our first year, we were trying to shoot dodgeballs, and the challenge for us was just to make a working robot. The second year was canceled due to the pandemic, but by the third year, we were able to shoot basketball-sized balls into a goal.”

The Lions began preparing for the FIRST competition in January, formulating ideas together before building and testing their robot ahead of the competition.

“We work basically non-stop. After the competition details are released on January 6, we brainstorm and figure out what type of robot we want to build,” he said. “The week after, we prototype and build and program our drive base for the robot. I put in 12 hours a day on the weekends and two hours every school day preparing for the competition.”

US Math Teacher Joe Cyr, one of the faculty advisors for the school’s VEX robotics team, has coached the US team for three years. The team meets after school four times a week for two hours to design robots for VEX, a competition in which participants build and design a robot for a game-based challenge against another team.

While VEX and FIRST utilize different technologies, the teams both compete in special yearly challenges, Dr. Cyr explained.

“While the VEX and FIRST competitions are totally different competitions, they are similar in basic setup, as the organizing body comes up with a game for the year and everybody has to build a robot to compete,” he said. “However, the FIRST Robotics robots are significantly larger than the VEX ones. Both VEX and FIRST Robotics involve hands-on work, cutting pieces, and problem solving.”

VEX Robotics Team Member Diba Demir ’25 appreciates that the various leagues provide different competition experiences, she said.

“Max’s team competes in FIRST, which is a different type of robotics competition than VEX that’s a little more industrial,” she said. “I think it’s great that there are different types of robotics opportunities offered to students apart from our own team.”

Diba recognized the dedication of the VEX team members and recognized that participants can gain valuable experience in just one season, she said.

“I think that there are a lot of hardworking and dedicated people on the school’s VEX team. Even if you don’t have any experience, you can usually end the season with a robust knowledge of robotics.”

Charlie Winikoff, who is a member of both the Boston Lions and the school robotics team, said the team that attended the FIRST competition differs from the VEX team due to their commitment and experience with robotics.

“The school team doesn’t have a ton of resources, so we haven’t done nearly as well as with FIRST because we don’t have a lot of longevity and motivation to get really good with VEX,” he said. “With FIRST, people have been on the team for a while and have been practicing online modeling and coding and have been really motivated for longer.”

The other teams at the FIRST competition were supportive, helping each other problem solve their robots. Charlie was also impressed by the team’s success, he said.

“Everyone was super kind. If something wasn’t working on a robot, everyone was willing to help each other even though you were competing against them. At the competition, we did way better than expected, which made my time there very enjoyable.”

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