On your living room floor, on the road and in the operating room, robots are here to stay. But it’s probably fair to say many of us don’t understand how they work. Unless you’re one of these brainy Sarasota students, that is.
Rafael Treminio, Armand Segui, Cannon Spencer and Quinn Coomer, seniors at Suncoast Polytechnical in Sarasota who make up The Blackout Robotics team, won the VEX Robotics State Championship on Saturday. The competition took place at Lake Minneola High School in Minneola, Florida, where their custom-built robots performed autonomous and remote-controlled tasks thanks to the team’s know-how that includes fitting custom cut parts and coding in C++ VEX Pros.
Even though the team has won multiple state championships, success still has its challenges. At the Saturday competition, a piece of their robot broke, forcing them to call a timeout and finagle a quick solution. As luck would have it, they had an extra sheet of plastic and some power tools in the car. While each piece of a robot has to be precise, they “eyeballed the cut and figured it out,” says Spencer, the team's captain.
The passion for problem-solving all started in a robotics class in sixth grade at Brookside Middle School, which the whole team attended.
The next year they won their first state championship competition and “that's when it took off,” says Spencer. So the four boys made a pact: they’d all go to the same high school to keep the team together. Since then, Team Blackout has earned more than 60 awards, including five state championships.
Joel Kaplin, their now-retired robotics teacher at Brookside Middle says, “If you play sports, you practice every day. It has to be the same with robotics, and that's what they did.”
When a state championship wraps up, next year’s challenge is laid out. It’s all timed, of course, and dozens of other teams from throughout the state compete. “On the way home from a championship, they’d already be designing the next robot for the next year,” Kaplin says.
All seniors, it’s likely the team will split up for college and they’ll no longer be “practically living at my house building and rebuilding robots over the weekends," says Chad Spencer, Cannon’s dad (and frequent Sarasota Magazine contributing photographer). "I know I’ll miss it when it’s gone."
But before that happens, the Sarasota team has one more trip to make: they’re on their way to Dallas, Texas, in May for the world championship competition.