At Center Grove High School’s Innovation Center, students worked on the final tune-ups for their robots, ahead of the student’s trip to Houston for the FIRST Championship in robotics this week.

The 49 students will travel to Texas via a 15-hour charter bus ride to the world championship to complete against teams from across the United States, Europe and Asia, said Lisa Porat, president of the Red Alert Robotics Parent Organization.

The team has had a run of success in the past. They’re qualified for the world championship seven times and attended six times, as the COVID-19 pandemic nixed one of those trips, Porat said. This year will be the first time Center Grove robotics will travel outside the Midwest to compete.

To make the trip, the robotics team, Red Alert Robotics Team 1741, raised about $20,000 from a plethora of sponsors. The trip is not school-sponsored, so the group had to raise funds to pull it off. Despite the challenges, Porat said she couldn’t have the students miss out on the opportunity.

“As a parent and mentor, I felt we’re gonna get them there whatever it takes,” Porat said. “They’ve worked really hard. All the mentors and parents, we will get them there.”

The robotics team pre-qualified for the world championship by winning the chairman’s award. The award is given to teams not based on their performance in the robotics arena, but outside of it, she said.

“The chairman’s award is the highest award you can earn and the most prestigious from FIRST. It exemplifies community engagement and outreach and the leadership team works on it year-round,” Porat said. “There’s no break, we start from the end of May on next year’s projects. The chairman’s award exemplified what we do with leadership, sponsor engagement, volunteering, hosting events and scrimmages. We built practice fields and mentored Greenwood to host their first tournaments as well as Columbus.”

Students have also done demonstrations at malls and the Clark Pleasant library, and created sensory and fine motor skills boards for students at Sugar Grove Elementary School, said Brinna Porat, a junior on the team.

Sarah Hendrix, a freshman, is in her first year with FIRST robotics, but has been involved with robotics for nine years. She played a role this year in helping the team earn the chairman’s award.

“I deal with awards and outreach as part of our chairman’s team,” she said. “For chairman’s, you have to write an essay and there’s presentations. I did one of the presentations and wrote some of the essay. For the worlds, we have to have someone in the pit for two of the awards and have to be judged on, so I’ll answer the judge’s questions for that.”

This year’s competition, which takes place Wednesday to Saturday, will have a transportation theme, which also played into the content of the essay. During competition, robots will be tasked with retrieving certain items, meant to represent cargo, and dropping them into certain hubs within the robotics field, said Elijah Leser, a senior.

“Right in the middle of the field is the hub, with a high goal and a low goal,” Leser said. “Robots can score cargo into the hub from anywhere on the field. On the corners of the field are human players who can interact with the field during an autonomous period. The robots are following programmed instructions and the players are throwing cargo—balls—onto the field. They can score with them and retrieve them.”

Grant Embrey, a junior, is in his third year of robotics, and serves as the engineering captain.

“I’ve always been interested in engineering and thought this would be fun. I’m involved with the designing and assembly of the robots,” Embrey said. “I enjoy working with a lot of people towards one common goal, having ideas toward the start of the season and having ideas come to fruition at competitions. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of other teams. I’ve only seen Indiana teams, but now there will be teams from California, Turkey and Israel that show off their robots on a little different stage.”

Brinna Porat has been involved with robotics for nine years, serving as the operations captain and serving as a chairman’s presenter, this will be her first time going to the FIRST Championship, Brinna Porat said.

“They sat us down and said ‘what do you want to do in your time in robotics,’ and I wanted to go to worlds,” she said. “Everyone comes together from across the globe in one giant competition and we share this passion with people from other countries. To experience how other people and other countries do FIRST means so much for me and the team, to go on this incredible journey to celebrate everything we’ve done and celebrate this past year.”