Mac robotics team takes on the world

Three seniors on Robotics A-team, The Apes, end their run by winning matches at VEX World Championship


Audrea Moyers

The Apes strategize with team 1233G, the UnderDogs, from Indiana during the Vex Robotics World Championship in Dallas.

Ingrid Smith, staff reporter

Before the McCallum Robotics A-team, The Apes, headed to Dallas to compete in the VEX Robotics World Championship on May 5, representing McCallum alongside the world’s best high school robotics teams was beyond senior Miles Bourgeois’ wildest dreams. Only 818 teams from 40 countries were selected to compete. After qualifying for Worlds by winning an award at a state competition and competing in regional tournaments with generally less than 30 teams, the sheer size and competitive environment of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center made the World Championship experience “insane.”

I was just kind of expecting to be blown away, and I definitely was.

— Miles Bourgeois

“I was just kind of expecting to be blown away and I definitely was,” Bourgeois said. “It was really, really fun and just so massive and so competitive. It took us three and a half minutes to walk from our pits to our fields. And again, there were just so many teams there. I never thought I’d see so many people packed into one very tight space.”

As the first McCallum team to go to Worlds in over a decade, the Apes and their robot Mecha Kanzi 2000 lived up to the team’s expectations and, out of 10 qualifiers, left Dallas with a 3-7 final score. Bourgeois said it was an honor to represent McCallum on the world stage.

“Since it’s my fourth year, this was kind of like all that I’ve been working up to,” Bourgeois said. “So it was really nice and a really, really good hoorah to four years of my life.”

But the competition came with challenges. On the first day of the competition, the Apes were unable to compete in the scheduled scouting and skills challenges as senior Ava Carlson and junior Evan Henderson, the team’s main players in these types of challenges, couldn’t arrive until later due to AP testing. Seniors Miles Bourgeois and Carson Pallotta elected to instead spend the day running tests on the robot and fixing any technical issues that arose. 

I’m proud of us for just getting to Worlds because it’s a massive accomplishment.

— Miles Bourgeois

“It was a very unique experience, not just because it was my first time being there, but also because we were down half our team for the first day,” Bourgeois said. “It was just kind of that cycle of go [to the field], make sure everything’s fine after walking there, play, run back, fix whatever’s broken after the last match, see who our next alliance partners are and then keep going and keep going.”

Carlson arrived in Dallas with low expectations for the team’s performance. Coming from a fine-arts-focused public school without a lot of robotics funding, the most important thing for Carlson and her teammates was to have fun.

“We were mainly just happy to be there, and it was a lot of fun,” Carlson said. “I got to see a lot of different kinds of robots, so I learned a bit about other teams’ processes that way.”

For Bourgeois, the driver of the Apes’ robot, leaving the field with a win after their first match was an unforgettable experience. After losing a goal, a point-scoring item, at the beginning of the match and being forced to play around their robot’s technical malfunctions, the Apes were at a big disadvantage. Still, Bourgeois managed to steal a goal in the last 20 seconds of the game, securing the team a win.

“Immediately after our first match, I kind of realized that I finally hit it with driving,” Bourgeois said. “Building the robot is one thing, but driving is an entire other skill. And it had taken me all season, but I finally got it, and I hit a nice balance in my driving style of playing offensively and playing defensively. And I think that really showed.”

We were mainly just happy to be there, and it was a lot of fun.

— Ava Carlson

The Apes played multiple matches a day until their elimination on day three. Bourgeois said that watching the final championship match of the competition in person was exciting after viewing it digitally for years. The Apes excitedly cheered on the now world champions, PiBotics 38141B from Erlanger, Ky., who they had been stationed next to at the U.S. Open in March. 

The Apes took part in their post-competition ritual one last time after Worlds, eating dinner at a charming, tiny bakery and playing video games until midnight. At the robotics program’s after-school meeting the next week, Bourgeois made sure to tell the other McCallum teams that the journey to Worlds involves more than just building a robot. It also involves building relationships, documenting design and putting in hours of hard work and brainstorming. According to Carlson, Mecha Kanzi 2000 will now be on display in the robotics room to inspire younger students in the years to come.

Bourgeois is most proud of the Apes for getting to Worlds in the first place. According to him, while the McCallum Robo Bonobos may not have the best facilities, the Apes proved that the right combination of people will make a team go far. In Bourgeois’ mind, the Apes are a perfect match.

“I’m proud of us for just getting to Worlds because it’s a massive accomplishment,” Bourgeois said. “It really speaks to how teamwork and team synergy can be the difference-maker in getting to Worlds versus not.”