Conroe ISD robotics team helps beleaguered Afghan squad

Members of the Conroe Independent School District “Texas Torque” team showed their team spirit and sense of camaraderie this week, stepping in to save the day for another robotics team competing on the world stage.

The “Texas Torque” robotics team was already planning to send four students the FIRST Global Challenge robot Olympics event in Mexico City later this week. When team members got word Sunday, Aug. 12, that a female team from Afghanistan had lost their robot in transit to the event, the CISD students offered to help in a big way — build a new robot in only two days.

The female robotics team from Afghanistan is already in Mexico City, and therefore were unable to build a new robot before the competition between teams from more than 190 countries starts Thursday, Aug. 16.

So, during the last two days of their summer vacation, a few students on the “Texas Torque” team gathered at The Woodlands – College Park High School’s robotics lab to construct a robot as a stand-in for the Afghanistan team’s missing device.

Conner Palandro, a “Texas Torque” team ambassador and College Park High School senior, said that the request for help came out of nowhere.

“It was definitely more of an adrenaline rush for me. Usually I’m able to work at my own pace and draw out my ideas, but we had to hit the ground running and get as much of it done as possible,” Palandro said.

Usually, the team has about two months to build a competition robot. They were tasked with building the replacement for the Afghan squard from scratch in a mere two days.

To make it more challenging, “Texas Torque” team members had to build the robot as closely as possible to how the Afghanistan team built their original robot.

This isn’t the first time the female Afghanistan team’s attempts to compete have almost been short-circuited.

In July 2017, the team was initially blocked from receiving their visas as they tried to travel to Washington, D.C. to take part in the same robotics competition.

Scott Rippetoe, the robotics instructional coach “Texas Torque,” said that he feels like his team’s mission is to help other teams from around the world — and they’re now getting the chance to aid a team that has faced difficulties both this year and last.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for a U.S. team to help a team from Afghanistan. We now have something that we definitely know is going to make an impact right away,” Rippetoe said.

“Texas Torque” members will not be competing in this year’s competition, however they were given the same robotics kit as the teams that are competing.

Lauren Schilling, a parent of team member Jackson Schilling, said this is because the team has been tasked with designing tutorials and handbooks for teams in other countries.

“Most of the overseas teams are novice teams, and they’ve never built something like this before,” Schilling said.

Rippetoe is scheduled to fly with the newly constructed robot to Mexico City tomorrow to deliver it to the female Afghanistan team, and Palandro and student teammates Jackson Schilling, William Marsh and Brant deGroot are to follow Thursday evening to attend the competition through Saturday.

These “Texas Torque” members are part of the district’s FIRST Robotics Challenge team division, which is an organization that stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

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