The Brookings-Harbor High School advanced robotics class didn't know what to expect when they attended last month's Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. They were there to enter the Power Racing Series, an event where engineering teams make an electric race car on a $500 budget, using the body of a child's Power Wheel vehicle. It being their first time ever competing in an event against professionals and being the first high school team to ever enter a car into the series, their event organizers, competitors and spectators weren't sure what to expect either.
In unprecedented fashion, the BHHS team, known as the Deep Space 9ers, won over the crowd to win the event, becoming the first ever high school team to do so.
The Deep Space 9ers tallied a total of 492 points during the three race competition, beating second place NIMBY by 18 points.
"I was really surprised when we got first place," said BHHS sophomore Kevin Brambilla. "It was a bit nerve-racking at the end when they were announcing the winners. When they announced NIMBY as second place we all started cheering because we realized we had won. We just all cheered really loud."
The Power Racing Series event pitted 11 teams, racing in two sprint races and one endurance race, with points being given in two categories: race points and Moxie points. Race points were given for finishing position while Moxie points were awarded by crowd voting.
The Deep Space 9ers completed all their races, their vehicle was no match when compared to the experienced NIMBY team, who took home first place in all three races, earning 100 points for each race. Combined with the fact that the 9ers blew out nine tires during the competition, BHHS advanced robotics teacher Alain Chirinian knew a change in strategy had to be made.
"We were very conservative. "We ran with known stuff and didn't do anything super crazy as far as materials and the car ran beautifully. The batteries lasted throughout the race but our weakness was tires," admitted Chirinian. "We were originally not even going to deal with Moxie points. We figured the other teams would have that down pat because they're repeat customers and would know how to get the Moxie points. Once we started blowing tires we had a meeting and thought, "The only way we are going to get through this is by me going and buying more tires and we're going to have to capitalize on the Moxie points. So we set up a system where we had the kids make a bunch of banners on the fly and they went through the audience and got them pumped up saying, "Vote for us!"
The strategy worked. Though they finished no higher than 5th place in any single race, their enthusiasm and energy won over the crowd and they received 424 Moxie points, more than 100 points better than the next closest Moxie total of 284.
The Moxie points put the 9ers on top, as they were able to defeat college teams and engineers from Tesla Motors among other professionals.
"It was a great victory and a great feeling for the kids and they had so much fun," said Chirinian. "They have gotten to know each other so well and know their strengths and weaknesses. They do think of themselves as a team, an actual cohesive group. This is something they will never forget."
Chirinian states that competing in events like the Power Racing Series is the reward after a year of long, hard yet enjoyable work that his students endure.
"My primary goal is to prep kids for those jobs and not to compete. The competition helps me bring them to that. That is the carrot at the end of the stick," said Chirinian. "Having the deadline is very important because I always believe anxiety creates motivation. If you have a deadline you have to shoot from the hip with the skills you have and have to develop new skills on the fly to problem solve, just like you would have to do in the real world.
It's a very unique situation where kids are not being given a set lesson with a known beginning, middle and end where they know where they will end before they start. The robotics students don't know how these projects are going to end up, but they do know they need to work together to get there."