Sixth in World for Webb 1466 Robotics team

Webb School of Knoxville’s 1466 FIRST Robotics high school team recently returned from the FIRST World Championship, which took place in George H. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, from April 19 through April 22, where it placed sixth out of 77 for autonomous routine.

“They did pretty well,” said Jenifer Lawrie, science teacher and robotics coach. “We did not end up playing in the playoffs there, but the robot performed really, really well.

“The performance was right where we thought it should be,” she added. “They were really proud of their autonomous routine — the robot has to do some things autonomously. We were sixth in our division of 77 teams for autonomous scoring, which was definitely an outstanding performance for us against some pretty incredible teams.”

Overall, “It was a real exciting event,” Lawrie said. “I think they had 59 countries represented, 18,000 student participants and about 50,000 spectators — all in this one building, cheering robots and competing on the field. It’s a pretty big event.

“We did the best that we could for the situation we were given because we had to, basically, switch out drivers,” said team co-leader, Dmitri Kalinin, a senior and Webb’s salutatorian. “It actually worked really well. Our robot still worked; our auto never failed. It was always a perfect autonomous routine every time.

“We actually had the sixth highest auto score in our division,” he added.

Webb’s FIRST Robotics high school team consists of 26 students, led by Kalinin and senior Agni Lolis.

“We get our game challenge in January,” Lawrie said. “From that point, basically, students have to build everything from scratch. That’s software, that’s electronics, that’s game planning, that’s getting practice in with the robot.

“We then attend tournaments, where we compete against other teams usually from all over the Southeast, but we also have international teams we compete against, as well, in regional tournaments,” she added.

This past season, the Webb team competed in Smoky Mountain Regional Competition in Knoxville Coliseum on April 1 and the Rocket City event in Huntsville, Alabama, April 5-8.

“The team did really well at Smoky Mountain,” Lawrie said. “They ranked third but were knocked out in the playoffs a little earlier than they were hoping to.”

Still, “they were pretty excited about that (third place designation before the playoffs),” she added.

Additionally, the team won a Robot Design Quality Award at Smoky Mountain “for a robust, well-designed robot,” Lawrie said.

“It was a great thing to pick up a technical award at an event,” she added.

However, “we qualified for the World Championship … at Rocket City Regional.

At Rocket City, “the team ranked second overall out of 51 teams,” Lawrie said. “It went into the playoffs pretty strong and made it to the finals.

“They played a double elimination bracket,” she added. “It was a bit dramatic for the team because they actually lost early in the playoffs.

“So, they had one loss and then they had to play against every other team in the playoffs in order to get to the finals. They didn’t have an easy route, but they did really well and made it to the finals.”

As a finalist in the Alabama competition, the team qualified for the World Championships.

Webb started its robotics program during the 2003-04 school year.

“This is our 20th robot the teams have built in our 20th year in competition,” Lawrie said. “We definitely think this has been a highlight year for us.

“This is strongest robot the team has ever built,” she added. “They’ve been pretty proud of that.”

Webb has won regional competitions over the years, but placing among top teams worldwide is a “tall order,” Lawrie said. “The last year we attended the World Championships was 2018.”

Along with the FIRST high school team, the school has four other robotics teams: FIRST Tech Challenge (team) with smaller scale robots (mostly seventh and eighth graders) and three FIRST Lego League teams for students in grades four to eight.

“They’ve all had pretty strong seasons,” Lawrie said about the teams’ competitions.

“We’re really looking to build more FIRST Tech Challenge programs in the area, so we’ve been hosting some scrimmage events here.”