Mechanical Mustangs Head to State Robotics Competition


Andrew Cao

The MacDuffie Robotics Team with their robot at the FIRST Tech Competition in January.

Athis Osathapan, Senior Staff Writer

The MacDuffie Robotics team, known more formally as the Mechanical Mustangs, competed in the regional FIRST Tech Competition (FTC) on Jan. 11 and placed first. They now look to compete in the State Championship this Saturday, Mar. 7. 

Driven by his passion for electrical engineering and computer science, senior Andrew Cao founded the MacDuffie Robotics Team as a club two years ago. Now, the team is comprised of seven other students with similar interests. 

However, compared to many other high schools with longer robotics legacies, the MacDuffie Robotics Team was not seen as a formidable opponent. For instance, Andover Robotics Club, a student-run organization that competes in the same league as MacDuffie, consists of three separate teams and is sponsored by six engineering firms, including Raytheon—the same company that manufactures missiles for U.S Department of Defense.

Before the beginning of the academic semester, FTC announced the rules of the competition. High school robotics teams around the country must build robots that can move lego-like stones and stack them on top of each other. Each team will be given a point for each stone moved to the drop zone. Offered as a CAP for students, the Mechanical Mustangs began building their robot during the fall. 

The team faced many obstacles during their build season. One was their limited budget. The few hundred dollars the team received came entirely from the MacDuffie IT department, and thus they did not have the resources to purchase many crucial parts for their robot.

In the regionals, the Mechanical Mustang went head-to-head with 22 teams and came out on top. The team had never made the playoffs before. Recounting his experience, Cao, the team captain, said, “We were aiming to just make the playoffs, but we ended up winning the whole competition. This was a surprise for us, but also a remarkable accomplishment, as we were against teams with much more resources and experience.”

Despite their success at the regional competition, the team decided to rebuild their robot entirely. This is due to the fact that, according to Cao, teams competing in the State Championship will “have even more impressive robots” than the ones they have seen. After a month of tirelessly working on the robot every day after school, the team finished their new design. 

“With our previous design, we would have had no chance at winning the State Championship,” senior Son Le said. With their newly engineered robot, the team felt confident that they would be able to stand their ground against the big names of high school robotics.