RaileRobotics took a skeleton crew to the squad's first regional competition of 2017, located in Lubbock, Texas. That crew faced a field with a pair of former national champions — and a team that had won 14 consecutive regional titles.
Those hurdles however, were not too big for RaileRobotics to overcome. The Newton squad grabbed a regional victory, and qualified for the national championships for the 10th time in the 17-year history of the program.
“This was kind of a Cinderella story,” said team sponsor Shawn Taylor. “...Lubbock was really a primer for us. We took a skeleton crew, a few students who put in a lot of time. It was a core group to get some things worked out with the robot.”
The next big hurdle for the team is raising funds — an estimated $15,000 — to actually attend the national tournament they have qualified for. That tournament is scheduled for April 25 through 30 in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Qualifying for nationals is one thing, but coming up with the finances is another sometimes,” Taylor said.
Newton entered the championship rounds as the No. 8, or final, seed. They were able to create the right alliances and defeat alliances headlined by the Robonauts from League City, Texas, and Roboteers, from Tremont, Illinois.
“The Robonauts is a NASA sponsored team that has not lost in 14 regionals,” Taylor said. “They go from two to three regionals a year. They have not lost a regional in like five years. They were a national winner in 2014. … The Roboteers won nationals last year. It was a lot very competitive teams that our eighth-seeded alliance went through and knocked out. It was interesting. It made for some awesome matches.”
The team, which includes 22 NHS students and one student from Hesston High School, has six weeks to create 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.
The regional had 46 teams registered, most from Texas. Illinois Colorado, California, New Mexico, Missouri and Oklahoma also sent teams to the regional. Three teams made the trip from Mexico, and one from the nation of Turkey.
In Newton, 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.
Newton Team 935 RaileRobotics will attend another regional tournament, this one a familiar location. The club will be among more than 60 teams at the Kansas City Regional scheduled for March 15 through 18 at Metropolitan Community College located at 1775 Universal Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri.
The team was a regional finalist at Kansas City in 2016, 2014 and 2012 and winner of the regional in 2007.