Springdale robotics team bring home a silver medal from Dubai

SPRINGDALE — The Tyson School of Innovation’s robotics team returned Monday with a silver medal from an overseas competition and new friendships from across the globe.

Root Negative One represented the U.S. in this year’s FIRST Global Challenge, held Oct. 24 through Sunday in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The team earned its medal in the Katherine Johnson Award for Engineering Documentation, which recognizes teams for their work demonstrating the journey they took in building their robot.

It’s one of several awards given out at the competition, each with a gold, silver and bronze designation. The gold Albert Einstein Award, deemed the most prestigious, went to Guyana.

Team USA went into the competition with the mindset that winning wasn’t the most important goal.

“This event was less about winning for us and more about celebration of the work that we’ve done and celebration of the global robotics community,” said Sara Manos, a team member and School of Innovation senior. “It was an amazing experience on both fronts.”

Getting there was an ordeal. The team left Springdale by charter bus at 2 a.m. Oct. 22 for Dallas, where they were scheduled to catch a noon flight direct to Dubai.

That flight was delayed — first three hours, then six, then nine. The group took another bus more than 200 miles south to Houston to catch a different flight to Dubai. It added up to a day and a half of travel.

“We were very exhausted,” Manos said.

Root Negative One earned the right to represent the United States by winning the top award at a national competition in Houston last spring. There were 189 countries represented at the Dubai competition. Teams had months to design a robot that could collect balls from a playing field and deposit them in various places on the field.

Each match involved two competing alliances, with each alliance consisting of three teams from different nations. Root Negative One won five of its nine matches and finished with a ranking of 62 out of 189 teams.

Abby Herrera said her favorite part of the trip was getting to know people from other countries, including Barbados, Libya, Vanuatu and the United Arab Emirates.

They also got to meet in person for the first time two teams they’ve been mentoring long-distance: one from Syria and another from Eritrea. They also met the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States and Rick Perry, the U.S. secretary of Energy.

Herrera said she and her teammates frequently found themselves giving U.S. geography lessons.

“For a lot of teams, it was their first time hearing about Arkansas,” Herrera said. “So we definitely know that some people will go home knowing where Arkansas is on the map.”

Root Negative One is in its fifth year. It’s coached by Richard Cassady and Chase Rainwater, both faculty members at the University of Arkansas, and Dru Samuelson, a robotics and engineering teacher at the School of Innovation.

Samuelson said the trip to Dubai was unlike anything he’d experienced. He was thrilled by how the team members presented themselves and how hard they worked.

“This is why you teach — to watch these kids succeed in their own way and to grow in their own way,” he said.

The team is now focused on its regular robotics season through the FIRST Tech Challenge. The first competition of the season is Jan. 11.

This time, they won’t have to travel far at all. The competition is in Springdale.

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