The members of Team Titanium accomplished much more than earning first place in an international robotics competition in China. They formed friendships and had a chance to explore a beautiful country.
The Lee’s Summit High School team, which was in a winning alliance with members from Australia and China, took the win in a tournament and conference held July 26 to 29. The event was sponsored by the Chinese Urban Youth Robotics Alliance.
In robotics competitions, winners of preliminary rounds form alliances for the finals. There were a total of 78 teams involved, most of them Chinese. In the finals, they were split into two divisions: one for the international teams and another for Chinese teams. Team Titanium was one of nine from across the U.S. invited to take part in the event held at Zhengzhou, Henan Province.
They were invited after winning second place in April FIRST World Championship in St. Louis. The Lee’s Summit delegation was made up of 12 team members and four adult mentors, including coaches Jeff and Nancy Spatz. While Team Titanium had 44 students last year, Jeff Spatz selected 12 for the trip. They were the students who could help mentor the Chinese students at the event, Nancy Spatz said.
Members of about 30 Chinese teams were experiencing their first robotics tournament. Lee’s Summit West has been competing for 11 years, and the team was invited to mentor Chinese teams during workshops on designing and in competition. The adults helped run the tournament.
Nancy Spatz said the Chinese robotics organization is trying to expand and grow its presence in its schools, so its leaders have been inviting teams from other countries to teach Chinese students about the competition. Team Titanium’s airfare was paid for, but members had to raise money for their lodging and meals.
The 12-day trip included several days of touring iconic sites like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Army. They saw “ghost cities” on the edges of established towns, rows and rows of skyscrapers, apartments or condominiums erected during a building boom in recent decades, but now standing empty, unfinished and derelict.
Experiencing Chinese culture, food and history were highlights of the trip, the coaches and students said.
Chinese students experience a great deal of pressure to excel and win admission to a university, said Justice Weber, a team member. School hours are longer in China than America. During summer breaks, they enroll in more school, at their parents’ expense, to keep pace in a very competitive system.
“They’re constantly at work to be improving,” Weber said.
She said the language barrier was difficult; only two of the 12 Chinese students the Lee’s Summit team was mentoring spoke English.
They said the residents of the country were curious about the Americans, frequently asked to pose for pictures.
“They asked what we loved about China, want we didn’t like about China,” Weber said. “A lot of people stopped us to tell us we were beautiful, then just walked away.”
Beijing was impressive for its green space and cleanliness, they said.
In the last 20 years, China has been undergoing a tremendous transformation, with a landscape full of new buildings and highways.
The Great Wall was very commercialized, the team members said, with rows and rows of souvenir shops.
“It’s a little like going to Silver Dollar City,” Jeff Spatz said.
The Chinese were even more dependent on cell phones than Americans. They nearly always paid for goods with apps, said Daniel Schnelle. Unlike U.S. money, different bills don’t have pictures of historical persons.
“No matter what the bill was, the same face was on the bill: Mao,” Schnelle said.
Nancy Spatz said the Chinese robotics students aren’t yet as skilled as top U.S. teams, but she predicts they soon will be. For now, they tend to copy ideas rather than test innovative methods. Some of the teams didn’t get the concept of creating their own design and building it. They researched winning robots from previous tournaments and had a factory build a replica for them, she said.
Alex Wood, said he is texting with members of the Australia team since he’s been home.
“You can make connections with people from other countries really quickly and keep them going after getting back home,” Wood said.