All-Girls Robotics Team Takes On World Championship Competition

In a world of innovation, technology and science, men seem to be at the forefront of it all. An all-female robotics team from Bellevue defied expectations when they won third place in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship this past April in Houston, Texas.

Team Captain Ashley Mead drove the winning robot at the competition.

“I have enjoyed every aspect of robotics since I was in fourth grade but my favorite parts are building and programming robots and watching my creation come alive. I also enjoy teamwork and teaching other people what I know about robotics,” Mead said.

But programming and constructing robots is not a fast and easy task.

“We meet three days a week: Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays with a total of 12 hours per week. We may meet some extra time if it is necessary,” Mead said.

Mead’s team operated together to make the robot do all kinds of tasks.

“For last year’s FTC [First Tech Challenge] competition, we built a robot that could shoot balls accurately into a basket three feet off the ground. It could also lift and place a 26-inch yoga ball onto the basket. Autonomously it could detect the color of beacon lights and determine which button to push on the beacon,” Mead said. Two years ago, our robot could hang from a bar and I thought that was really cool.”

Along with her other teammates, the group strategized and worked with an alliance team to their success.

“There is an 18-inch cubed sizing limit for the robots in our competition. It is a big challenge to figure out how to fit all of our robot’s subsystems and still have a robot that meets that requirement,” Mead said.

But being in a male-dominant field of science did come with some distasteful sexist remarks and underestimation from their male competitors.

“In Super Regional, we were once underestimated by one of our alliance partners who were boys, with us being an all-girls team. They did not think our autonomous would work well, so they insisted that they would run theirs for the match. However, when we demonstrated our autonomous to them, they finally said that we could run ours. At World [Championships] when we were selecting teams for our alliance as we finished second place going into the semi-final rounds, one team was not taking our invitation to join us seriously but they later apologized,” Mead said.

The team did not let their fellow contestants discourage them. Because of their achievement in the competition, it was easier for them to raise funds and recruit new members.

PHS Robotics Club Adviser Andrew McClure thinks likewise. He explains his thoughts on the general myths of robotics.

“That it is just the smart, nerdy kids that are doing it, and it is all boys. I would admit that that’s how it starts out. I think I had two girls that started last year and I ended with just one, but anybody can do it. There are teams that are in this competition that are made up of all girls, that are all-girls teams. And you do not even have to know robotics,” McClure said. “I mean, you could be a person that is outgoing and can talk with other people, you can do those same skills even with marketing or communicating with others, butt the biggest is just, you know, the nerdy kids, it is the smart kids. Really, it could be anybody. That label does not fit. If you have a passion for building things, designing things; we can do all those things here.”

He stresses the importance of the learning that is taken from doing robotics.

“If you can do robotics or a part of that, whether you do a career in robotics directly, obviously manufacturing uses robotics but that is going to be more on the programming side,” McClure said. “The skills that you would gain from robotics- working with others, being able to collaborate, being able to problem solve… anything, those skills are gonna be there, being innovative in your solutions, being able to test the design process, to come to a solution, build it, test it, redesign it, those skills – it is all over the place, and being able to talk with people, communicate with your teammates and others who will come an ask about our robot, being able to show off our team as a whole, to companies and organizations while we’re seeking donations and support to even, you know, how to build a web page, how to market yourself, all those skills are done within our club.”

As for starting up, he recommends getting to know the basics first.

“If you want to get started, come in, talk to me, talk to a member that is currently involved. Check out YouTube, search, like… ‘first robotics’. Look at the competitions and see what the robots do,” McClure said. “Watch them in action and then you can come down and see our robot and look at it. And just check it out, ask questions. That is really the best way to find out more.”