Shane Bennett, Rebecca Abbot-McCune and Kaelum Hasler work on FRC Team 401s robot. The Montgomery County team will be participating in this weekend’s competition at Blacksburg High School.

This competition brings together some of the best and brightest robotics teams from Washington, D.C.; Maryland and Virginia.

Thirty-eight teams will face off on a basketball court sized playing field. The FIRST Steamworks theme is from the industrial revolution era where technology relied on steam power to prepare airships for ultimate long distance races.

Forming two sides of three alliances each, teams will be using today’s technology of robots to collect fuel (or whiffle balls) to shoot into a “boiler” to build “steam pressure.” Robots will also collect and deliver gears to an “airship” to engage the “rotors.” The teams most prepared for “liftoff” wins.

The robots have an autonomous period for fifteen seconds. Drivers then pick up controllers to drive the robots until the end of the match. The last thirty seconds allows for bonus scoring opportunities as well as a daring robot climb up a rope to “board” the airship.

FIRST Robotic Competition (FRC) teams around the world had just six weeks this winter to design, program and build their robots. They use their own inventiveness and are assisted by mentors, but teams are given no design instructions. The robots they build weigh up to 120 pounds and adhere to size requirements as well cost limitations.

Team 401 Copperhead Robotics of Montgomery County Public School is composed of 48 students from all four high schools. Team 401 plans to compete as well as play host to this weekend’s competition.

Jacob Sykes, a freshman at Eastern Montgomery High School, is enjoying his first year on Team 401.

“The build season was a thrill. I got to help my team build a robot. I felt important being a part of something this big. I am excited but a little nervous about this weekend’s competition but the theme is cool,” Sykes said.


Shalonda Dillard is a junior at Christiansburg High School, one of eight female Team 401 members and a rookie.

“Building this robot in only six weeks was stressful but fun. I learned teamwork and how to work together to solve critical problems. I think our team will do well at its first competition. Doing our best is what counts,” Dillard said.

“We are pleased to return to Blacksburg High School again this year. Local sponsors such as the RBTC and the New River Valley Robotics Association have been valuable partners in making this event possible. Together, we are helping young people in the New River Valley and beyond become tomorrow’s technology leaders,” said Stan Southworth, Executive Director for FIRST Chesapeake.

Social Media support for this event is made possible by the members of the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC). Live Stream video sponsorship is by Northrop Grumman Corporation. However, FIRST hopes the public, of all ages, will stop by BHS to see competition from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Philip Kobezak has participated in FIRST for over twenty years as a student and mentor. Kobezak is currently mentoring Team 401 and encourages the public to attend a FIRST event like the one being held at BHS.

“Many people are not sure what robotics involves and this competition atmosphere allows anyone to see STEM inspiration in action. The excitement is modeled after sports and very much different than a science fair. It is good for kids to see the excitement that drives STEM education and careers,” Kobezak said.

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