FIRST things first: D-B robotics team headed to Myrtle Beach competition

Rick Wagner • Feb 28, 2018 at 1:08 PM

KINGSPORT — About two dozen local high school students headed to Myrtle Beach at around 6 a.m. today.

No, they are not taking an early spring break, but instead are members of a FIRST Robotics team attending the first of at least two competitions this year.

The 4020 Cyber Tribe team, 26 students from Dobyns-Bennett High School, will be participating Friday and Saturday in the Palmetto Regional, to be followed by the Cleveland Buckeye Regional  March 30-31 in Ohio. The ultimate goal is to reach a World FIRST competition in Houston April 18-21, but that will require either being one of the three winning alliance teams in Myrtle Beach or Cleveland or winning the Chairman’s Award in Myrtle Beach.

Elsewhere in the region, Cherokee High School has a FIRST Robotics team that is to compete March 21-24 in the Smoky Mountain Regional robotics competition at Thompson Boling-Arena in Knoxville.

This year’s task for competitors is to move milk crates or “power cubes” with a robot to a large balance scale, with the winning alliance getting the most crates there, said Cyber Tribe project manager Thomas Jolley, a senior. Extra points come in the last segment in which robots can climb up the middle of the scale.

 “We’re working on a system to piggyback ’bots,” Thomas said of the team, which has a website at www.dbcybertribe.com and is using STREAMWORKS’ temporary “STEM Gym” at the corner of Center and Broad streets downtown.


This marks D-B’s seventh year of competition in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The team spent about six and a half weeks getting its competition robot ready. Marcus Espeland, a programmer and freshman, said he got his start in the Lego League  team at Jefferson Elementary School. Other team members and coach, teacher and sponsor Angela Conrad explained that the team bagged its competition robot Feb. 20 but continues to work and practice with a second robot. 

“I mainly build,” said junior Philip Burgess, who will be spending the first year in the “pit” for Cyber Tribe. He said the team makes repairs there, much like NASCAR teams do on pit row, as well as tweaks on the robot.

Conrad, whose assistant coach and team cosponsor is Cody Davenport, said the team is an extra-curricular activity, but members can get academic science elective credit if they do 80 hours of work.

Rithvik Vutukuri, a senior and four-year member of the team, is a builder who helped with the essay to apply for the Chairman’s Award. He plans to earn a biomedical engineering undergraduate degree and to become a doctor.

“The medical field needs a lot of problem solvers,” Conrad said Monday as some team members got in a little practice, worked in the pit and prepared to pack up to leave.

Sponsorships and donations account for more than $20,000 needed to support the team, not counting in-kind donations. Sponsors include Eastman Chemical Co., Tri-Cities Extrusion, Eastman Credit Union, STREAMWORKS, TVA, Kingsport City Schools and the Kiwanis Club. Registration for the Myrtle Beach competition is $5,000 and for Cleveland is $4,000. In addition, there are transportation and other costs, including robotics parts and other materials.


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