In the outer reaches of the galaxy, one robot has a single mission: carefully load cargo onto a space ship while navigating the unpredictable terrain of a distant planet.
The device is efficient and completes its task before the ship takes off — but this isn’t another planet. It’s the building space for 4-H Exploding Bacon Robotics off Forsyth Road.
Local high-schoolers watch as their robot, Ham Solo — controlled with an off-brand Xbox controller — deposits orange “cargo” dodge balls into a tiered wooden tower to represent the spaceship.
The team’s robot building season just ended, but there’s still plenty of work to do — spreading a passion for STEM and robot building.
The Winter Park-based 4-H Exploding Bacon Robotics Team 1902 won big on the international stage last month when it captured the Championship Chairman’s Award at the 2019 FIRST Robotics World Championship event in Houston, Texas.
The pre-college robotics team of about 40 students was chosen from a field of 43 teams, who all qualified to compete for the award by winning the Regional Chairman’s Award at events around the world.
The Championship Chairman’s Award each year is given to the team that has the most significant, measurable impact on the world — inspiring young people to appreciate and pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Exploding Bacon earning the prestigious award also means they will be inducted into the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Hall of Fame — a group of 28 teams from Canada, Australia and a number of U.S. states that have won the award since its inception in 1992.
It’s an accolade that recognizes Exploding Bacon’s efforts to support other robot-building teams in their community and grow an interest in STEM among youth. Although the team competes in robot competitions, it’s about more than just building the most efficient robot, Seminole High School senior Ruhi Lankalapalli said.
Exploding Bacon is proud to be named to the FIRST Robotics Hall of Fame, which recognizes community outreach, Lankalapalli said.
“It’s a group of teams that are considered role-model teams in the FIRST community, and teams that are there for any assistance and serve to be role models for good outreach culture,” Lankalapalli said.
The team promotes STEM through a number of different avenues, including Spark Science Kits — boxes of simple building supplies that that are sent to foreign countries around the world to inspire students with fewer resources.
There is also the #FIRSTLikeAGirl outreach program, which empowers young women to be more confident to participate in STEM activities and careers.
The goal of the nonprofit organization FIRST always has been to promote STEM to K-12 students and inspire them to learn more about science and technology. For Lake Highland Prep student Matthew Poteshman, joining Exploding Bacon has done just that.
“It’s definitely helped me cement that I want to go into the STEM field as a career,” Poteshman said. “I came to this team wondering how the heck this type of robot worked. … I was curious about how it works, and now — not only do I understand — I get the opportunity to build a robot every year. I get to do it with a bunch of people who not only are trying to learn but are also doing their best to teach everybody around them. It’s definitely a supportive environment, and it’s really awesome to be a part of it.”
The team also has helped form close friendships, Circle Christian School student Alexis Udowychenko said.
“I’ve made so many friends though robotics, and I’ll meet other people at competitions too that I’ll become friends with,” Udowychenko said. “Overall, everybody here is so nice. … It’s really fun.”
“It’s definitely not a stretch to say we’re really a family,” Poteshman said.