Moco’s ‘Team USA’ takes accolades in robotics competition and learns a little

Representing the United States, the eight-member team of high-school robotics experts who call themselves Wizards.exe, left the FIRST Global Challenge 2018 robotics competition in Mexico on Sunday, with three large medals and a new appreciation for people who live in countries they previously knew little about.

Team USA, which consisted totally of students from Montgomery County, along with their “G-Wiz” robot, took Gold in engineering design and fundraising and Silver for winning eight out of eight of their qualifying matches, only slightly beaten out in points by Romania.

FIRST Global, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)-focused international nonprofit, gathered competitors from more than 160 countries, Aug. 15 through Aug. 18, at Mexico City’s Arena Ciudad de Mexico to solve energy-efficiency problems using robots created by student participants.

“It’s a very cool and unique experience,” said Ishaan Oberoi, who soon will start 11th grade at Richard Montgomery High School.

“It was basically a Super Bowl,” said Arjun Oberoi, who is about to start ninth grade at Montgomery Blair High School.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto opened the event, rappers Black Eyed Peas performed, and Intel conducted a drone show. The students also met U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who signed their robot.

In between the festivities, the students competed against 166 teams, controlling the robot they had built as it performed tasks on demand. Their robot moved power cubes, installed solar panels and activated windmills.

The students worked on their robot throughout the school year and spent many hours teaching others how to do the same.

“We wanted to try and show them where it would take them, what it could do” to learn robotics and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, said Seth Anika, a rising 10th grader at Montgomery Blair.

Together, Team USA communicated in English, French and Spanish.

Gathered at the Oberois’ home Monday night, one day after returning from Mexico City, the team members seemed more excited about their international experience than their victory.

Beneath the Arena Ciudad de Mexico, where the robots dueled, resided the pit. Each country’s team worked out of a small area in the pit. The camaraderie, as well as the event’s emphasis on cooperation, enabled the students to help other teams, said Ishaan Oberoi.

They also worked together on the 25th floor of their hotel, which was reserved for the participants. It was here that Team USA met with the team from the Republic of Congo, who didn’t have a working robot when the competition was about to start.

Prior to coming to Mexico City, the students also Skyped with a three-member team from Comoros, three small islands off the eastern coast of Africa between Mozambique and Madagascar. However, two days before the event, the all-female team learned their request for visas to travel to Mexico had been declined.

Altogether, Team USA helped 33 other teams, said Oberoi.

The cooperation among Team USA and the other teams started long before the actual competition. About a month before they traveled to Mexico, at least one of the County students woke up early on many summer mornings and Skyped with Team Bosnia-Herzegovina. The students also created instructional videos for them.

Oberoi befriended members of the Iranian team, who weren’t able to compete last year because American sanctions stopped the team from receiving the initial robot parts kit. This year, the kit was shipped to the Iranians through China and another country, explained Panjak Oberoi, the team’s coach.

“One of the goals of FIRST Global is to break down barriers from other countries,” Coach Oberoi said.

A high point for the coach was when Team Hope, a group of Syrian refugees, entered the arena to loud chants of “hope, hope.”

The students live in tents, often not with their families, he said, so all the cheering “was really cool to see.” The international event “was more than robots,” he said.

After earning the Silver in the qualifying round, Team USA lost 927 to 850 in its next round, following “a bit of bad luck,” said Arjun Oberoi, causing them to “switch strategy in the middle because of problems.”

When they weren’t competing, Team USA visited pre-Aztec pyramids, the Floating Gardens and Six Flags Mexico, and ate a lot of Mexican food, which they all agreed tasted nothing like the Mexican food available in Maryland.

“We had this one great taco place. We had it six of the 10 days” they were in Mexico, Ishaan Oberoi said.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, the team members anxiously await the topic of the coming school year’s series of robotic competitions, which they will learn at a kick-off this weekend.

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