Nolan high school robotics team wins division at world competition

North Texas Catholic
(Apr 24, 2024) Local

The Robo Vikes team of Nolan Catholic High School, along with the three teams in their alliance, won the 2024 Archimedes Division at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition World Championship on April 20, 2024. (courtesy photo)

FORT WORTH — Nolan Catholic High School's award-winning robotics team, Robo Vikes, returned to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition World Championship April 17-20 at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

This was the team’s fourth time competing at the championship and marks their first win. The Robo Vikes and the three teams in their alliance won the 2024 Archimedes Division, which comprised 75 teams. After earning the division award, the Robo Vikes proceeded to participate in “The Einstein Playoffs,” a feat only the top eight alliances achieved.

“Our goal as a team was always to be on that Einstein Field. It's taken years, leadership, working together, problem solving — but we got there. We met that goal,” said Julia Ermish, team mentor and mother of a Robo Vikes alumnus.

Throughout the competition, the team programmed and drove their robot to play in a music-themed game called “Crescendo,” in which the machines shoot foam rings called “notes” into speakers, amplifiers, or onto a microphone, while also working to intercept rival teams from scoring.

“We start the year analyzing the game and the perfect robot to play,” explained director of engineering and head robotics coach Brad Billeaudeau. The students work in small teams sketching designs then move to computer-aided design before construction.

Miguel Gutierrez, of the Nolan Robo Vikes, practices his manufacturing skills at Nolan Catholic High School's IDEA building in anticipation of the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“These kids are running $75,000 machines — running lathes, manufacturing parts. A mentor supervises and helps, but the kids are making these parts,” Billeaudeau said. “A lot of our alumni come back and say, ‘Wow, our shop is better than at college.’”

In college, he added, students don't normally get to use workshops until senior year. “So some of our kids have been paid to run the workshops or shows at their colleges.”

Billeaudeau and Ermish laud the Robo Vikes' mentors: engineers from Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter, Frank W. Neal and Associates, Southwest Airlines, and others. The mentors are unpaid, and while two are Nolan alumni, none have kids on the team — they volunteer simply for the love of helping the next generation of engineers.

Their involvement helps the team stay true to their motto, one that touches on Nolan's motto, Esto Dux, Billeaudeau explained. “It's 'Building Leaders. Building Robots.' We're building leaders, leadership skills. We just use robots and robotics to do that.”

Students build on their faith too.

“We have a statue here and a stained-glass window in our building that is Joseph the worker and his Family,” Ermish added. “We teach the kids to use their hands to build for good... We want to instill using our hands for good for our faith,” she said.

Ruby Pfautsch, of the Nolan Robo Vikes, creates parts for the group's robot at Nolan Catholic High School in August 2023. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Robo Vikes also augments FIRST's core values of employing gracious professionalism and “coopertition” — cooperating during competition — with a value of their own, Billeaudeau explained: service before self.

“We want to help everybody [at competitions],” he said. “We will give you parts; we will fix your robot — we will do whatever we can. We send our students over [to other teams] with an active role to fix their robots. Service before self is how we use our teachings for that.”

The Robo Vikes dedicated their season and robot’s name to Robo Vike alumnus Carson FitzGibbon, who died in 2023.

“When we went to competition, we had his picture on the side of our robotic cart, and our robot had the name Carson on it,” Ermish said. “His parents were pretty proud of it.”

Nolan Catholic High School, Robo Vikes, robotics, FIRST, trending-english