Robotics and Soccer: how two students qualified for the world championship


Courtesy of Jason Yang

After winning their competition, seniors Jason Yang and Ben Goff stand outside the venue, holding their trophy. The competition lasted for three days from Sept. 13 to Sept. 15. “This was an amazing experience, and I am glad we were able to compete,” Goff said. “I just like being able to come up with unique ideas and being able to design a robot and put them to test and see which ideas worked and which ones didn’t.”

By Jacob Stanton, Parkway West High School

Hearts pounding, seniors Jason Yang and Ben Goff step up to compete during the National Robotics Competition in California. However, this was not just any robotics competition–it was a sports competition. Each team built their own team of robots that were specifically programmed to play soccer.

Two hours before the competition started, Yang and Goff built their robots from scratch and programmed them to operate by themselves.

“[It was] an amazing but very challenging experience from the start. We had to assemble robots directly from memory; no instructions or pamphlets, just straight-up memory,” Yang said. “We only had two hours to complete the project, which was a fun and intriguing challenge.”

When it comes to building robots, Yang and Goff have their method of development.

“We started by building a team of two robots [with] motors that allowed them to move and do functions like kicking and turning. We also used infrared sensors to allow the robot to ‘see’ the ball, and the opponent’s robots, which took a lot of practice and preparation,” Goff said. “It was a neat experience to see all of our work come to life during the game.”

In order to prepare for the competition, Yang and Goff practiced for a countless amount of hours.

“We would typically spend two hours each day, including weekends, preparing different practice models,” Goff said. “I think the practice definitely paid off because we had a really cool and unique design that ended up working really well.”

Before the match started, each team came up with a completely new and competitive strategy.

“There are two ways you can go about it. You can either work really well and copy other teams’ strategies, or you can try [to] be creative and do your own thing. The point is that you want to try and win as much as possible,” Yang said. “We came up with a really creative strategy, and that was to line up at the center of the field. Every time the ball hit the back of the wall, it was fouled and put at the center of the field. We put a kicker on [the robot] so that we could try to do a center kick because the opponent’s robot often had slow movement, which allowed us to have a chance to score.”

Winning feels really good, but it is like the cherry on top; the process of competing and all the preparation is what really matters,”

— senior Jason Yang

As the match progressed, the intensity increased.

“It is very competitive. The competition itself is relatively new to the U.S., which makes it even more intense, [because] everyone is trying to be their very best,” Yang said. “All the players are trying so hard to gain reputation and catch up with other countries like Russia and China. I could just feel the stress and emotion come at me all at once.”

Both Yang and Goff feel that they gain more from competing and creating robots than actually winning.

“The creativity of robotics is what I like the most. I like all the preparation and the push to win. I like working together with a partner, which always makes competing more exciting and fun,” Yang said. “Winning feels really good, but it is like the cherry on top; the process of competing, and all the preparation is what really matters.”

Yang and Goff placed third overall and qualified for the world championships in Hungary, which will be held at the end of November. Meanwhile, both students are inspired to continue robotics in their future.

“We are interested in the WRO [World Robotics Olympiad Association] soccer competition, which we will do for two more years and hopefully win nationals again,” Goff said. “I have looked into different robotics programs, and I’m hoping to get involved at a university, and continue my ongoing success.”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on November 18, 2019.