FSL robotics team win First Tech Challenge

FSL Robotics team yet again proved their pedigree by winning the Northern Irish regional heat of the prestigious First Tech Challenge, a global robotics competition sponsored by Disney, ARM and Qualcomm.


Aimed at engaging students in Years 11-14 in physical computing and software design, the FSL Robotics club has been going since 2019, regularly attracting between 15-20 students from across years 11-14 and where they can discuss, design and test various model robots. 

The robotics club first tasted success when they won the Northern Ireland School Lego Robotics league at their first attempt and with it a chance to compete at the Big Bang Fair at the NEC in Birmingham. Unfortunately due to Covid, the event was cancelled and the team missed the opportunity to test their skills against the UK leading school robotics teams. 

This year we decided to set our sights a little higher competing in the First Tech Challenge, a considerable step-up in terms of the robot design requirements, complexity of the build and the general standard of competition. This did not phase our team who relished the opportunity to test their newly-acquired skills against other schools. 

Given the cost to both enter the competition and to buy the equipment, we decided to approach some companies for sponsorship and were fortunate enough to be awarded a significant bursary from ARM, a global microprocessor manufacturer based in Cambridge, England. Furthermore ARM also offered to mentor our students through the various prototypes the team designed to accomplish the various tasks set for the competition. Our mentor, Ben Chen, a seasoned chip designer with a keen interest in robotics, ‘virtually’ met with the team every fortnight to discuss progress and any issues they had encountered during each design iteration. The team is very very grateful for both the sponsorship and guidance provided by Arm, without whom we would not have been able to compete so successfully.

The competition was hosted in W5 at the SSE Arena in Belfast on the 15th June with seven other school-based teams competing for the chance to compete in the next stage of the competition held in the 02 Arena in London. The competition had three parts with the initial two stages assessing design and teamwork capabilities. The FSL team had prepared well and navigated both stages with aplomb, demonstrating both a detailed understanding of the design brief and the need to ‘divide-and-conquer’ in order to accomplish all the set tasks. The next stage involved a series of ‘face-offs’ with other schools, navigating complex obstacle-strewn courses, picking up and delivering ‘cargo’ both autonomously and under ‘driver’ control. Again the FSL robot design was flexible enough to adapt to each task with relative ease, amassing an early lead which they only briefly relinquished to finish top of the league. The team were also awarded the ‘Control’ trophy in recognition of the complexity of their software design.

The team consisting of Eddie Doogan (Year 14), David Thompson, Jonathan Irwin, Peter Barker, Dylan Cole, Donald Gillespie (Year 13), Scott Buchanan (Year 12), Cosmin Ursache, Benjamin Tinsley (Year 11), oozed camaraderie, enabling the team to problem-solve the many issues they encountered over the course of the day. Magnanimous in victory, the team were commended on their consideration for the other teams competing on the day, a trait not lost on the competition organisers. After a tough day competing, the team celebrated their hard-fought victory over pizza, regaling their friends and parents over how the robot wars were won! Deinceps ad victoriam. 

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