Vashon robotics team ends season at Super-Regional competition in Tacoma

Vashon Pi-R8s team members work on their robot at the super-regional competition in Tacoma last weekend. Vashon teams have made it to the multi-state competition twice in its 10-year history. (Bruce Johns Photo)

For only the second time in its 10-year history, Vashon’s robotics club advanced to the Super Regional tournament, putting it in the top 6 percent of robotics teams nationwide.

Last weekend, the Vashon Pi-R8s took on more than 70 of other robotics teams at the First Tech Challenge West Super-Regional Championship at the Tacoma Convention Center. The three-day competition brought teams from 13 states including Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada and Alaska.

“The best of the best were there,” Pi-R8s head coach Bruce Johns said Monday.

Vashon’s robot was plagued with “lots of mechanical and electrical problems,” according to Johns and did not move on to the world championship.

“That’s how it goes sometimes … but we had a blast,” he said.

The team has never gone to a world competition, but last weekend’s event marks the second time that a Vashon robotics team made it to the regional competition — a different team made it two years ago.

This year’s team won the state championship on Feb. 4.

“Just taking State alone is huge, then to go to super-regionals, that’s pretty fun,” Johns said. “Unlike sports, they don’t divide schools based on size, district, etc. Vashon goes up against the biggest and smallest schools.”

The Pi-R8s team is made up of 10 island teens who meet on Saturdays during their season, which begins in September. Every year, game designers reveal a different “game” that the teams’ robot must play. The robot’s ability to complete the task is the benchmark used for judging the bot throughout the season.

“The game changes every year,” Johns said. “In September, the kids have to start from scratch and build a robot that will play the game the best.”

This year, Johns said the game required a robot to pick up a wiffle ball and put it into a hoop, “kind of like basketball,” he said.

The 10 teens — nine high-schoolers and one eighth-grader — got to work and competed in multiple matches within the Tacoma league before moving up in competition.

“For our graduating team members, this was a perfect wrap to a wonderful season,” Johns said on the club’s Instagram page. “For our new members, this was a wonderful start to a FIRST career, and an amazing learning experience.”

The club is an after-school program that was created by the PTSA and works closely with the Vashon Island School District.