The countdown is on, with only a few weeks left for the RaileRobotics team at Newton High School to complete a robot to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition.


"We get six weeks to design, build, program and machine a fully-functioning robot that completes the tasks given to us," said Team Captain Abby Wenger.


The RaileRobotics team plans to enter their robot in regional events in Lubbock, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, in March. The team, which includes 22 NHS students and one student from Hesston High School, is creating a robot that can perform several tasks.


"This year, it's collecting balls, climbing ropes and placing gears on pegs," said Electronics Captain Colin Potluri.


Teams from three different schools will form an "alliance," racing to complete the required tasks in two and a half minutes.


"We're really hungry for a win," Wenger said.


The last time the RaileRobotics won a regional competition was in 2012.


"RaileRobotics is really fortunate, because we have the second largest educational machine shop in Kansas," Potluri said.


The students spend around 25 hours each week in the Brooks Trade Center, meeting after school and on Saturdays to assemble, program, test and revise their work.


"The strain of work and everything kind of weighs down on you until you get to competition," said Design Captain Reid Graber.


The team builds replicas of the obstacles and structures they will encounter in the competition with wood, while the robot is made from a parts kit FIRST provides, along with machined and 3-D printed parts.


"We use cameras and sensors to sense elements on the game field," Potluri said. "This is the first year we've been able to put together vision on a robot that actually works."


To track their progress, the team keeps an engineering notebook, a practice that was started in 2005.


"I put pictures of prototypes in it. We make stuff out of wood, just to see if it will work, and then we end up having the real thing with aluminum," Wenger said.


The engineering notebook allows them to reference the design requirements, goals, math and design ideas, noting what worked and what needs improvement.


"We got this idea from industry, how you can go back and look at your own ideas from your specs," Potluri said.


Each page in the engineering notebook is dated and signed by the adult robotics mentors.


"The good thing about putting these in the engineering notebook is that, if you find something that works really well and no one's ever created it before, you can create a patent," Graber said.


As much as the team has their eyes on the prize of winning the FIRST competition, they are also looking to the future.


"My brother was in robotics when he was in high school, and that influenced me to join the team," Potluri said. "Why I keep on doing it is I realize it's a great way to start your career while in high school."


The RaileRobotics team is also led by Software Programming Captain Ethan Piland and Machining Captain Matthew Sattler. The program is not only for students interested in programming, engineering and math — team members also create promotional items such as bandannas and buttons and serve as public relations coordinators.


Now in its 16th year, the RaileRobotics program is led by Shawn Taylor and Rusty Jolliff.


"They both work really hard and give us too much slack and tolerance," Potluri said. "They really want to see this team succeed and they love what they're doing."


Other RaileRobotics alumni return to oversee the current team members.


"Everything on here is made by students, but mentored by adults," Potluri said. "There'll be some mentors coming in that were in the robotics team or had kids on the robotics team."


Each of the RaileRobotics team members is hoping to win a regional event so they can go on to compete in the national FIRST Robotics Competition.


"We're aiming high this year," Graber said.


For more information about RaileRobotics, visit