“It’s amazing what these kids are doing, what they are gaining.”
by Rebecca Wicks
The Ventura-based Robotics Team HighTide 4414 won the biggest and most prestigious high school level international competition earlier this month in Houston. According to FIRST Robotics who put on the event, approximately 3,300 high school level robotics teams competed in more than 1,000 qualifying matches in order to claim one of the 600 coveted spots to contend at “Worlds” as it is affectionately known.
“It’s hard to put in words, it was incredible,” said Aadhya Bavkar, a sophomore at Foothill Tech High School who is on the design build part of the team. “Everything was amplified there which made it stressful but an amazing opportunity to push us and really learn the full capabilities of what our team can do when we work together.”
HighTide, an independent team from Ventura, took the world title as part of a four-team alliance that moved to the finals after winning their division earlier in the week. The four-day event drew more than 46,000 attendees and teams from 19 countries. This year the team felt more prepared after having placed second in the previous year.
“Last year [at Worlds] was my first time driving in front of such a huge crowd,” said Zach Shew, a junior at El Camino High School, who served as the team’s driver. Shew shared he worked to know his strategies in depth and thoroughly prior to each competition. “In the competition I tried to just chill, and not think about it too much and just concentrate on hearing my co-driver and playing my game.”
To prepare, the team meets regularly and builds its robots at Sessa Manufacturing, one of its main sponsors. It begins each year meeting two nights a week in the fall through December. Team members learn and hone their electrical, manufacturing and programming skills and compete in some off season events during this time.
In January, FIRST releases details on the “game” which changes each year. In the timed game the robot works autonomously for the first 15 seconds of the match, and is then in the hands of a driver the second portion of the match. This year the main goal was to pick up and place cones and cubes in different patterns. In previous years, robots had to gathered balls and shot them into different marked areas. The team then has six weeks to design, build and program an industrial-sized robot before regional competitions begin. HighTide builds two robots during this time, one for practice and prototyping and the other for competition. The team continues to make improvements to the bot throughout regional play.
HighTide clinched their entry to Worlds early this year by winning the Hueneme Port Regional competition in early March. They continued to dominate with other wins at the Ventura County Regional and Aerospace Valley Regional competitions.
The team is supported by nine mentors, five of them which live and work locally, four of which assist remotely with the team. Vinny Pecchia, an engineer at the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC) serves as a mentor for the team and is continually impressed with the high school team members’ abilities to design, run CAD changes, machine parts and program and execute 3D printing.
“It’s amazing what these kids are doing, what they are gaining,” said Pecchia who wished he had an opportunity like HighTide when he was in high school. “They are learning how to do everything from cradle to grave; a lot of these kids could have jobs tomorrow with the skills they are learning.”
Jonathan Sessa, who is an engineer, President of Sessa Manufacturing and head coach and mentor of the team describes this year’s team as the most involved and streamlined team he has ever coached.
“I’m super proud of everyone this season. It feels pretty sweet when hard work pays off after so many hours and late nights spent grinding,” said Sessa of the team. “I’m so thankful to everyone involved including all the mentors and alumni [of previous teams] for building an amazing culture and team with me.”
The team hosts its own off season competition called the Tidal Tumble each year in October. The event take place October 20-22, 2023 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds and is open to the public.