Switching Gears: Independent robotics team from Austin coming together for Worlds run

Published 7:00 pm Friday, March 8, 2024

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An independent team of Austin middle school robotics enthusiasts are ready to take on the world after a successful state run.

The Microbots, made up of Ian Carolan, Clark Ekins, Megan Grush and Noah Anderson, has solidified a trip to the World VEX Robotics Tournament, which will be held in Dallas, Texas April 30-May 3 after recently competing in the Minnesota State VEX IQ Tournament.

While the team said it’s actually qualified for three world competitions, this is the second year in the team is gearing up for the trip.

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“Each year we’ve leveled up,” Grush said.

The team found its bearings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after both the middle school and high school programs at Austin Public Schools were forced to shutter.

But these four, through family and friend connections, wanted to continue competing.

“The schools didn’t offer robotics because of COVID, so we started around three years ago now, in 2021ish,” Anderson said.

At this most recent event, the team pulled in awards such as the Teamwork Championship Award and the Excellence Award, the highest award given at the tournament.

On Thursday afternoon, the foursome were gathered at the Carolan household to begin the long planning and training trek toward world competitions, focusing on each area of their specialties.

Ekins is the driver of the team, but can also work on coding if need be. Anderson is the team’s primary coder with Grush handling the team’s logbook while serving as back-up driver.

Meanwhile, Carolan is the primary robot builder of the team, but can also split time as a driver.

“I just like building,” Carolan said. “I’ve always liked building and I enjoy driving.”

But it’s not an easy road to the world competition. The work alone, without a school system to back them, is daunting and leaves them to consider fundraising to spur their projects forward.

“Our funds, we get those through fundraisers, mainly at the Pizza Ranch,” Ekins said, referring to tip nights at the restaurant. “That’s our favorite.”

While there’s plenty of time between now and the world competition for the team to hone their robot, all four concede that there is a lot of work to do in order to prepare. Building, coding, practicing, it’s all something they are digging into, starting now.

“I definitely have some driving to get caught up on,” Ekins said.

And of course, there are goals to meet.

“We want to be in the top three in our division,” Carolan said. “We got ninth last year. We want to do a little better.”

Preparing for the worlds is challenging and will be at the forefront of their minds, but there’s also another aspect to the team within the community.

Over recent summers, the foursome have embarked on offering camps and taking part in other programs. For example, they helped others explore robotics with the More Than Pink and Boys of Tomorrow programs this past summer, as well as holding camps that help raise funds.

“We teach them the very basics of coding and explaining the games,” Grush said. “There are now a couple teams that have said, ‘we went to your robotics camp.’ That’s cool.”

At the end of the day though, the Microbots are a team that at its core consists of four kids spending time with each other and sharing common interests.

“For me it’s coding. It’s kind of how my mind works,” Anderson said and then added. “It’s also like being around people who understand me when I start talking. This is just a great group of people.”