KryptoKnights, a team of eighth graders from Hopkinton Middle School, beat thousands of robotics teams from around the world to win the Excellence Award at the VEX IQ Robotics Competition World Championships earlier this month in Dallas.
The winning team is comprised of Agam Bhatia, Sai Shrivardhan (Shri) Dasari, Rudra Pachori, Suhani Patni, Prannav Raja and Pahlaj Sharma.
In addition to bragging rights, the team received a banner, trophy and gold medals. Patricia Allen, RoboHiller Robotics coach and HMS media literacy and guidance seminar teacher, described the experience this way: “It really is surreal!”
She is in the process of trying to purchase a replica of the trophy for each team member.
As to why the program is so popular with kids, Allen replied, “Who doesn’t like to play with robots? Who doesn’t love a puzzle?”
Every year, the VEX robotics challenge is different, or as Allen describes it, “an ever-changing puzzle.”
Students need to use the engineering design process to identify the problem such as how to get a robot from here to there and devise possible solutions. They design, build and code a new robot each year.
At HMS, Allen explained, robotics is a team. “For many students, this is their team sport,” she said.
The teams of six to eight members can take on various roles including coding, building, designing, researching, documenting, driving or a combination of any of those tasks.
“For students interested in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], it is a great opportunity to learn, grow, compete and have fun with your friends,” Allen said.
The program has a student-centered model, so Allen’s job is to ask questions, give students access to resources, help them see the learning through their failures and “cheer the loudest for each of them regardless of outcome.”
A total of 15 students on three teams competed at the event sponsored by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation.
With the win, KryptoKnights also received an invitation to next year’s middle school worlds competition, but because they are eighth graders, they will not be attending, Allen explained.
Prior to the worlds, several teams attempted online challenges, with KryptoKnights winning in the Poster Design Challenge and the Mind Hackers achieving finalist status in the Career Readiness category.
To win the overall Excellence Award, the team not only had to incorporate criteria of the design award but had the added component of its on-play performance at the event, held April 30-May 2.
Ranking high in qualifying matches as well as judged interviews were other factors, as was a display of good sportsmanship and professionalism.
Members of the winning team all cited teamwork as contributing to their success.
Suhani Patni said, “We were never afraid to ask questions or share ideas even when they weren’t the best ones. … We worked together, practiced, prepared and never gave up.”
“We found a working dynamic with everyone on the team,” agreed Prannav Raja. “Even though we had our differences, we always came together in the end. We made sure to have set responsibilities in order to work efficiently.”
Allen described the students as “six of the hardest working, diligent, articulate and talented students” she’s ever come across.
She said she felt proud to see Patni, the only girl on the team, acting as a role model for girls at HMS interested in STEM.
The coach noted gender never played a role in the group’s dynamic.
“The KryptoKnights respected each other and the strengths they each brought to the team, so kudos to Suhani for excelling in this group of boys, but kudos to the boys for treating her as an equal,” Allen said. “They all listened to each other, worked through their challenges and kept their focus on what they wanted.”
As for the winning moment, Agam Bhatia recalled hearing the first three digits of the team’s identification (1715) and members all jumping to their feet and running down toward the stage.
After slowing down, Bhatia said walking on the stage in front of so many people was “probably the most heart-shaking moment.”
Patni noted the team members ran to the stage with “loads of excitement,” and she saw herself standing there with them listening to the cheers and applause in the arena. “It made me realize we had done it,” she said. “It was an amazing and inspiring experience to be at worlds.”
Raja remembered feeling “overwhelmed and overjoyed that all our hard work paid off.”
He said it took a few hours to fully realize their achievement. “We were in a state of euphoria for the whole day.”
Allen’s initial reaction was to put her hands on her head and stand in “utter shock … for what seemed like forever.” After snapping out of it, she ran to take a photo of the students, lost her voice and “smiled from ear to ear all night.”
“I hugged, high-fived and fist-bumped each of them multiple times as we all tried to comprehend what had happened.”
But she added that she is equally proud of all of the teams who hit milestones throughout the year, including 1715G and 1715V, who also earned spots at worlds.
Congratulations Agam Bhatia, Sai Shrivardhan (Shri) Dasari, Rudra Pachori, Suhani Patni, Prannav Raja and Pahlaj Sharma! What an awesome accomplishment!
Fantastic!!! Congrats to the team and coach!! Well done!